Survivor’s Summit group conquers Mt. Kilimanjaro

AUSTIN (KXAN) — For Mike Thompson, 29, climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro was a piece of cake compared to fighting leukemia … twice. He says climbing the 19,300 foot mountain wasn’t as hard as fighting and beating the bone cancer he developed from the all of the radiation treatments he took fighting leukemia. But his trek to the top of the tallest freestanding mountain in the world was infinitely more rewarding.

“My personal battle with cancer is over. I’ve been cured for a while. I just had another anniversary. But my fight is still very much alive,” said Thompson. “I see people around me that still face, whether it’s the disease on their own, or just a family member or they’ve lost somebody to it, my fight with cancer never ends.”

Mike Thompson and Stephani Smolucha
Mike Thompson and Stephani Smolucha

In January, Thompson joined a group of 15 people for the Survivor’s Summit — a climb for cancer survivors, their families, or anyone who has lost someone to cancer, to the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. As part of the group, climbers raise at least $10,000 each to help fund the LIVESTRONG Foundation’s programs and services that serve cancer patients and their families.

“Really what we’re doing on this climb is trying to raise hope and funds and awareness for the 32 million people affected by cancer,” said Stephani Smolucha, LIVESTRONG’S Annual Giving manager.

Smolucha carried an Honor Flag to the summit. It bore the names of the people she has lost to cancer, including two of her grandparents, her dad’s best friend and her friend from college, Kate Voth, who passed away from cancer a little more than a year ago.

“Along the climb, you feel everybody who is on that Honor Flag, you really feel everyone there with you,” Smolucha said.

The Survivor Summit is in its third year and the creators say it exists to provide inspiration, motivation and hope for those facing uphill battles. The mission of the Survivor Summit Foundation is to lead cancer survivors and their supporters on life-altering journeys, inspiring them and the community at large to challenge the mental and physical boundaries associated with cancer.

“I think you really learn what you’re capable of,” said Smolucha. “We’ve taken on this huge mountain, and I feel ready to take on whatever comes my way.”

For Thompson, it wasn’t just about pushing himself. During his cancer battle, he turned to LIVESTRONG for help.

“LIVESTRONG played an instrumental role in really helping me kind of find life again and telling me that it was OK to hurt and embrace the pain, but then also live a life. To live strong,” said Thompson.

The team, which included six Austinites, raised a total of $186,509. The Survivor’s Summit is held once each year.

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