Utahns climb to mount battle against cancer
Holladay • Alyssa Englund celebrated her one-year "Cancerversary" by taking yet another step this time up a rock wall.
A year after completing treatment for breast cancer, the 37-year-old former Sandy woman wasn't just pulling for herself Saturday but for the 70,000-plus young adults between ages 18 and 39 who are diagnosed with cancer each year.
She and others participated in the Fourth Annual Climb-A-Thon, held at the Rockreation Sport Climbing Center, 2074 E. 3900 South, as part of a 16-state effort to raise money for the nonprofit group First Descents and the camps it sponsors for cancer patients by climbing a cumulative 70,000 vertical feet.
As a New York lawyer, Englund had just finished the biggest case of her career and had big plans since graduating from Brigham Young University's law school when her life took an abrupt turn with the diagnosis: cancer.
Like a lawyer, she vowed to fight it.
By December 2011, scans showed no cancer. She continued 34 more rounds of radiation and began hormone therapy to stop the disease from returning.
Thus began a new battle.
She plunged into a severe depression with insomnia, anxiety and panic attacks. It got so bad that Englund told her doctors she'd rather get cancer again than continue this emotional and mental anguish.
"It's much easier to cope with the cancer than the aftereffects caused by depression," Englund explained. "I joke with people that just because my hair came back doesn't mean I'm better."
So she went to a free First Descents camp, where young adult cancer fighters kayak, surf or climb to help them get past their diagnosis. They also get a nickname at the camp to help them focus on their new life.
"Bandcamp," as her camp mates called her, said the experience helped her realize her capabilities, rather than her limitations.
"There is no going back to normal," Englund said, "because you have to get a new version of yourself."
The late Nick Raitt loved the camp so much it inspired his parents, Lori and Lee Brower, who attended Saturday's climb to continue sharing the positive spirit their son embodied.
"It was a healing of the spirit," Brower said of his son's "life-changing" camp experience.
Whitney Nelson, of Washington, D.C., took a break from her skiing vacation in Utah to climb the wall Saturday. She has a friend who has gone to the group's camps. While dusting chalk off her hands, Nelson said, "I've just seen firsthand how these camps transform people."
Learn more about First Descents