Two Parkland Health staff members, both ovarian cancer survivors, have achieved an inspiring feat by reaching the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro. Nicole Moler, Advanced Practice Manager, and Jessica Baxter, Patient Safety & Clinical Risk Manager, embarked on the journey as part of Team T.E.A.L. (Tell Every Amazing Lady) with the National Ovarian Cancer Coalition (NOCC).
Their remarkable journey began when Jessica noticed Nicole wearing an ovarian cancer pin during an education class. A survivor of 17 years herself, Jessica struck up a conversation with Nicole, who had recently marked five years cancer-free. Bonding over their shared experience, the two women discovered Jessica's involvement with NOCC, sparking the idea to join Team T.E.A.L.'s mission to climb Kilimanjaro.
Despite the challenge of less than 50% success rate in reaching the summit, Nicole and Jessica were thrilled to be selected as part of the 15-member team. Overcoming the non-technical climb required rigorous preparation, including extensive workouts and acclimation to extreme altitudes.
“We started out at midnight. We had headlamps on our head to guide us, but the only light was from the stars,” Jessica said, adding they were engulfed in total darkness. “One of our guides pointed out that the lights in the distance were from Kenya. I was amazed to be on a mountain and being able to see the glow of lights from another country.” “The altitude was different. We had to dress in layers, and it was super cold,” Nicole recalled. “We had to walk so slow so we could preserve our oxygen and our breathing.” At one point Jessica was suffering from nausea and headaches, a result of the extreme altitude, “but we had guides who were making sure we were OK,” she said. “I was monitoring my pulse and writing down any symptoms and checking in with base camp.”
The trek began on Independence Day, with the team ascending the 19,341-foot mountain over seven days. Facing total darkness, extreme cold, and altitude-related challenges, including nausea and headaches, the team persevered with the support of guides and each other.
Now safely back, the duo is not slowing down. Jessica contemplates a trek to one of Mount Everest's base camps, while Nicole discusses a family trip to Machu Picchu in Peru. Reflecting on their journey, Jessica emphasizes the parallel between fighting cancer and climbing a mountain, urging others to remember their strength and take life one step at a time.
“We have one life. We can either be fearful of the future or embrace the life you are given. Doing something like climbing Mount Kilimanjaro showed how strong we were, but as I have mentioned, anyone who is fighting cancer must remember that it’s like climbing a mountain. There are peaks, valleys, ups and downs, and it requires a lot of endurance. But just remind yourself that you have more strength than you give yourself credit for and put one foot in front of the other. You’ve got this.”