Cancer survivor Iversen summits Mount Shasta |

Cancer survivor Iversen summits Mount Shasta

Melinda Dudley

— Two weeks after undergoing heart surgery for a chemotherapy-induced arrhythmia last November, breast cancer survivor Dr. Rosanne Iversen already was pushing herself to get back outside and back in shape. After all, she had a mountain to climb in only six months.

“I was like a caged lion,” Iversen said.

A self-described novice mountaineer, Iversen went from having her life consumed with cancer to climbing fourteeners on skis and spending all her free time training.

Last week, Iversen climbed to the summit of California’s Mount Shasta with a group of 35 breast cancer survivors and supporters in Climb Against the Odds 2008. The climb benefited a San Francisco-based nonprofit organization founded in 1992, the Breast Cancer Fund, which works to identify and eliminate environmental causes of breast cancer while also raising awareness of the disease and making it a public health priority.

“The whole involvement with the Breast Cancer Fund helped me with my recovery, especially regaining my physical strength after surgery,” Iversen said. “It’s been physically and emotionally healing. Getting to raise money for a cause you care about feels so positive.”

Iversen, who raised more than $41,000 leading up to the climb, viewed it as her way to give back and move on with her life after cancer.

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“I’ve dedicated these six months of my life to fundraising and organizing, and then I’ll be back,” Iversen said.

A new strength

Iversen’s training ran the gamut of outdoor exercises.

Depending on the weather, she worked out by hiking, skate skiing, biking and climbing. She did strength training, core exercises and stretching at home. On family hikes and hut trips with her husband and children, Iversen would load up her pack with the bulk of the weight.

“I’m trying a whole lot of new things. It’s pushing me beyond my comfort zone,” Iversen said in April. “Training for the climb has been life changing, just like breast cancer has been.”

In the winter and spring, she frequented Hahn’s Peak, Emerald Mountain, Thunderhead Peak and Storm Peak – often with her Wheaten terrier, Buddy, in tow.

During the course of her training, because of networking with local mountaineers, Iversen picked up a few “lucky charms” for Mount Shasta in the form of loaned equipment. She borrowed crampons from her mountaineering instructor Matt Tredway – crampons he wore during his attempt to summit Mount Everest.

A positive focus

Keeping a positive attitude during Iversen’s battle with cancer and her training this year was key to getting through it all, she said.

“You can dwell on how you’re tired, or how you’re weak, or how you’re still bald,” Iversen said. “But it sucks you down further.”

“If you’re feeling pathetic and depressed all the time, it’s almost like you’re creating your own mess,” said Cathyrn Wohlfert, 36, who was diagnosed with breast cancer last year. “If you don’t push yourself to get out of that, you just sit there and wallow.”

Despite still being in treatment, Wohlfert was psyched last month when she learned the Breast Cancer Fund was organizing a climb of Bhutan’s Mount Chomolhari in October.

“For a split second, I was like, ‘I can totally do this!’ Then I was like, ‘It’s only five months – maybe not,'” Wohlfert said. “This year, we’ll do Relay For Life. Maybe next year I’ll climb Shasta.”

In the meantime, she’s taking it one day at a time and not sweating the small stuff.

“By the end of the month, hopefully I’ll be back on my bike and not feeling like crap,” Wohlfert said. “Now I want to ride my bike more than anything. I want to get up in the mountains as much as I can. I want to take that trip I didn’t take last year.

“I want to make sure that I’m living – truly living.”

Chemicals and cancer

Although research into environmental causes of breast cancer still is emerging, you should take a better-safe-than-sorry attitude when it comes to your health, Iversen said.

Bisphenol A, a common chemical, originally was developed in the 1930s as a synthetic estrogen. Although it failed as a pharmaceutical, BPA now is a component of many plastics. BPA made news across the country last year when it was discovered that the chemical, found in polycarbonates including baby bottles and popular Nalgene beverage containers, leeches out of plastic and into the liquids they contain.

“If we know it’s an estrogen, and it leaks out of plastic bottles, and we know lifetime estrogen exposure increases the risk of breast cancer, why not avoid it?” Iversen said.

In April, Nalgene announced it was phasing out products containing BPA. Bills pending in Congress would ban the chemical from food and drink containers, and children’s products including toys.

Phtalates, another chemical found in plastics, were banned in children’s products and toys by the state of California last year.

Other chemicals linked to cancer, including parabens and UV filters found in sunscreens, commonly are found in cosmetics and personal care products. For more information and a product database, visit

Exposure to all forms of radiation, especially at a young age, also has been shown to increase cancer risk, Iversen said.

– To reach Melinda Dudley, call 871-4203

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On the ‘Net

For more information about the Breast Cancer Fund and Climb Against the Odds, visit http://www.breastcancerf…