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Woodbury residents traveling to Nepal to climb the Himalayas

John and Mary LaPrairie, of Woodbury, will be leaving for Nepal this weekend with the organization Above + Beyond Cancer where they will climb mountains in the Himalayas.

For many, battling cancer is a journey in itself, but that's not stopping some cancer survivors from embarking on another challenge.

Mary and John LaPrairie, of Woodbury, will be participating in a trip to Nepal with the organization Above + Beyond Cancer as supporters and caregivers for 17 cancer survivors who will be climbing mountains in the Himalayas.

The LaPrairies, who are longtime American Cancer Society volunteers and supporters, will be joined by 19 other supporters and caregivers.

"Something has led me to this point," Mary said. "This is something I should try, at least shoot for.

"Everything culminated to this point - I think I want to help someone up a mountain."

The trip will be Sept. 22 to Oct. 12.

Going above and beyond

Above + Beyond Cancer organizes transformational adventure-based programs for cancer survivors and caregivers that are strategically designed to energize and inspire the public while providing context for the participants' cancer advocacy work.

The group aims to reduce the burden of cancer by mobilizing cancer survivors and caregivers into communities of advocates who will promote and campaign for policies, practices, and programs that prevent cancer and improve outcomes for those diagnosed with cancer.

"Their tagline is it's not in spite of their cancer, it's because of their cancer they do this," Mary said. "You did this, you had this journey in your life, but there's so much more you can do."

Mary first heard of Above +Beyond Cancer through her work as a volunteer coordinator with the American Cancer Society.

She worked closely with volunteers in Iowa, where she came to meet the doctor who founded Above + Beyond Cancer.

Mary then received an invitation to apply for the trip to Nepal.

"It happened to be on my husband's bucket list too," she said.

A total of 2,100 applications for the trip were downloaded, Mary said.

Mary said she wanted to participate in the trip to Nepal because it would not only allow her to support cancer survivors, it would put her completely outside her comfort zone.

"It was about stepping outside of yourself," she said. "We're doing something you never thought you would do, or could do. It's about having an experience I've never had before or really ever dreamed of."

John said he wanted to participate in the trip because of the experience of it.

"This type of adventure is something that hasn't really been in our plans ever," he said. "It's going to be a very unique experience - it's a part of the world you just don't see yourself going to."

Elevating their experience

The initial trip to Nepal was going to consist of the group trekking around the entirety of Mount Kailash, in Tibet, which is considered to be the naval of the world in some cultures and the birthplace of Buddha.

However, the trip took a turn earlier this month when the Chinese government closed off the border to Tibet, where the group would have entered, because of its disapproval of Tibet's religious practices.

"I was disappointed," Mary said. "There was a beginning and an end, so you had that real sense of accomplishment - I like that aspect of it."

John said he was excited about the change because the mountains they will now be climbing will be those that are often used by people to train to climb Mount Everest.

"You're 10 to 12 miles away from Mount Everest," he said, "and that's incredible."

The new itinerary will include the group traveling to Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal, which sits at an elevation of roughly 11,000 feet.

The group will spend about four days in Kathmandu acclimating to the elevation while visiting temples, trekking through villages and communing.

Next, the group will fly to the Lukla Airport, which is considered to be the most dangerous airport in the world, Mary said, due to it being in the mountains, being a short airstrip and having a drop-off of 2,000 feet.

"The anxiety of going together is leaving the kids behind," Mary said. "We'll do what kings and queens do and I'll go in one plane and he'll go in another plane - but we won't think about that."

Then, the group will climb a number of mountains in the Himalayas including Imja Tse, which has an elevation of 20,300 feet.

Mary and John LaPrairie both said they aren't really nervous about the trip.

"I have blind trust that they wouldn't take us on something that would put us in harm's way," Mary said.

Additionally, the group will participate in a modified Relay for Life, where instead of luminaries, the group will hang prayer flags.

"We're taking names of those loved and lost," Mary said.

Preparing for the adventure

The LaPrairies have been preparing for their trip to Nepal by purchasing the appropriate equipment and trekking throughout Woodbury and Afton.

"We've spent a small fortune on equipment," Mary said. "My husband and I look ridiculous when we put on our very expensive hiking boots, and our backpack, and just trek around Woodbury and if we see a hill we climb it.

"There's really nothing we can do to condition for the elevation."

The couple said they will be bringing elevation medication with them on their trip.

"If we get elevation sickness we'll be down and out for the count for a little while," Mary said.

Mary and John both said they are excited about the trip and the experiences it will bring.

"I'm looking forward to discovering something new in myself and taking the humility of doing this alongside cancer patients," Mary said. "There's a woman who lost her arm to bone cancer and she's going to be on this trip.

"I've always been very humbled to work with cancer survivors, so watching these people who have fought a battle we've never had to do and now they're going to accomplish this is amazing."

Amber Kispert-Smith

Amber Kispert-Smith has been the schools and Afton reporter at the Woodbury Bulletin since 2008. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Minnesota. She previously worked as a reporter for Press Publications in White Bear Lake.

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