It is almost a month since Oman Cancer Association’s 20 member volunteers’ team climbed the Kilimanjaro to convey the message, but the sweetness of success still lingers around.
For team leader Nasser al Azri, the climb was familiar having done it before, but for the rest of the team, it was a challenge they were taking up to prove to themselves and to help emphasize the message from OCA — “Physical activity is part of cancer prevention and control.’
“Getting the group together and preparing them mentally and physically for the climb, getting them to know each other so they can support each other was not easy. Climbing Kilimanjaro was also not easy either — a mountain with such high altitude is definitely out of people’s comfort zone. It is just like what people go through when they are diagnosed with cancer. But they can come out of it — they can get away with the negativity and boost themselves by being more positive. They also have to keep talking about it. By giving them short doses of positivity, they can really beat this disease,” said Nasser.
“Honestly, managing a team of 20 people is difficult as we had to constantly think of how each person is responding to the weather, environment in addition to their own health. Aside from fitness training, we incorporated Yoga into their activities to ensure everyone has the right breathing techniques,” Nasser, who is also an experienced climber, explained.
OCA’s 20-member team returned home on June 30th after successfully scaling Mount Kilimanjaro. One of them who conquered the peak successfully is cancer survivor Juzair Nawab.
“I am very thankful to the Oman Cancer Association for giving me this opportunity to be part of this expedition. When I learnt about the project and the purpose behind it, I was very impressed because I have personally experienced the benefits of healthy lifestyles and physical activity in my fight against cancer and finally overcoming it,” he said.
He added, “Initially, I had a lot of hesitation but with Nasser’s persistent persuasion and excellent support from the team members, I decided to go ahead, tried my best and gave it my best shot. I hope whatever little I have achieved will inspire other cancer patients and the community to fight and overcome cancer.”
Juzair shared that what he learnt from the experience was how to “get out of the comfort zone.”
He said, “You can realise the full potential of your being – be it physical, mental or emotional. Unless you accept challenges such as these, you do not realise how much potential you have within you.”
Another team member who was also a cancer survivor reached the second camp but with the challenging weather condition (it was snowing by the time they venture to it), the volunteers were forced to return to base. The other 19 however successfully reached the top of the summit. Four of them reached Stella Point, while the remaining 15, reached the highest point of Mount Kilimanjaro named Uhuru – meaning freedom in Swahili.
“One of the most important lessons from this challenge was that what your mind believes your body can adapt. For me, it enforces the message of the importance of keeping a healthy lifestyle and pushing myself out of my comfort zone,” said Khairat al Toobi, an OCA volunteer team member.
“What I have seen is, you can push yourself and achieve whatever dream you have and there is nothing that is impossible. You never know how strong you are until you are in a situation where the only choice is to be strong,” Khairat said.
He added, “There are no words to describe how we felt up there on Mount Kilimanjaro. The temperature is -24 degrees Celsius and it was windy. We were wearing eight layers of clothes and yet we still feel cold.”
Participants were put through a protocol of exercises and Yoga for a period of six months and it was those who successfully completed the programme who were chosen to climb the mountain.
“This program would not have been successful if it were not for the strong commitment of those involved at all levels. Juzair Nawab is now a role model for all cancer survivors. They brought out the comrade and esprit de corps that was necessary for the success of the programme. We would like to thank all those who have sponsored this team,” said Dr Wahid al Kharousi, Chairman of Oman Cancer Association.
The team departed from Muscat on June 21 and came home after successfully climbing the top on June 30, 2018.
Out of the ten days, seven days were spent on climbing up and down the summit. “No major incidents or side effects. Only cold burns and flu thankfully,” said Al Azri.
The climb’s connection to cancer
OCA chose this project to highlight that physical inactivity is one of the four recognized main risk factor for cancer.
“Physical activity is an important component in cancer prevention and control. The OCA’s strategy is to create awareness and encourage the community to engage in a healthy lifestyle and physical activity. It is important and necessary to create awareness in all the sectors of the community with a pragmatic programme suitable for different age groups,” said Dr Al Kharousi.
“The biggest benefit I gained from this experience is being healthy, active and being part of the team effort. In the beginning, when we started training, we hardly knew each other but later we learnt about each other’s weaknesses and supported each other accordingly and encouraged each other to be healthy. This is what we are going to carry forward,” said participant Ashfauqe Ahmed.
For Siham al Harthi, it was exciting to see there were more female members than men in the group.
“It was so encouraging to see women who braved and faced the challenge head-on. Most importantly we completed the challenge and here we are to tell the story. I feel it is such an honour. It was in my bucketlist to climb Kilimanjaro. I am an active woman and I like doing outdoor activities. But learning the fact that this expedition is to raise funds for the cancer association specifically breast cancer, I was very happy because I have had a lot of ladies in the family who had to go through breast cancer,” she shared.
The lesson I learnt was that if you have a positive mind and have the right support system, you can do just anything,” she said.
The event is now going to be an annual programme to help raise awareness about the importance of a healthy lifestyle.