There were 24 climbers in our group—19 guys and six women. We flew into the airport in the town at the base of Kilimanjaro and began the trek two days later. I remember riding in the bus, heading to start day one on the mountain, when I saw it for the first time in the distance. I couldn’t believe how huge it was! And my next thought was, what had I gotten myself into?

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The first days were probably the easiest. I was mentally psyched up and part of a very supportive group ranging in age from 14 to 68. Accompanying us on the trek were local guides, and they helped carry our tents and other gear. On that first day, the climate of the mountain was warm and damp, like a rainforest. But the higher you go, the colder it gets, and the landscape changes significantly. On day two we were already above the clouds, with temperatures plunging to below freezing. I started out in shorts. Soon I was bundled up in my parka, mittens, and winter hat.

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Three days in, the trek became more grueling. Almost all of us suffered from altitude sickness, which causes nausea and headaches and makes breathing difficult because of the lack of oxygen. I had injured my foot on the first day, and that combined with the altitude sickness made keeping up rough for me. I wanted to chat with the other members of the group while we climbed. But I really had to focus on endurance rather than conversation. When we’d finally stop, eat dinner, and then get in our tents for the night, I’d be so exhausted, I’d wish that I were in my own bed with Netflix. 

On day six, with the summit in sight, we all woke up at midnight and began the last leg of the ascent, climbing eight hours until we reached the top at sunrise. One of the guides tapped me on the shoulder and said, “Sister, you made it.” The view from the summit was unlike anything I’d ever seen. The clouds were below us, so it was hard to tell where the snow ended and the sky began. It was magical. I was so overwhelmed with emotion, I began to cry.

We weren’t done with Kilimanjaro yet—we now began our descent back to base. But going down was different because I felt so inspired. Not only had I pushed the limits of what I could do, but our group collectively raised $100,000 by asking friends and family members for donations or using crowdsourcing sites such as GoFundMe. That money allowed Radiating Hope to buy two radiation machines for a hospital in Tanzania, a country that had previously had none.

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