Annual Report 2013: Ending Cancer Together
At 71 years old, Lynn Lippert has climbed so many mountains she's lost track of them all. But she remembers every summit she's topped to raise funds for Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center's Climb to Fight Breast Cancer.
Lynn remembers them in part because she always carries a banner with the names of more than 1,000 people touched by cancer – in celebration of their survival or their memories. There are so many names she's had to add an extra panel. "It's a symbol that there's just way too much cancer in the world," Lynn said of the banner.
But it's also a symbol of hope, which is something the three-time cancer survivor knows a lot about.
Lynn grew up hiking with her brothers in Oregon. It wasn't until college where she trained to become a physical therapist that she began summiting peaks, starting with Mt. Hood outside of Portland. Over the next 50 years, Lynn's passion for climbing led her across the western United States, Ecuador, Nepal and Africa.
While working as a physical therapy teacher, Lynn met avid climber Sal Jepson. The two became climbing partners and soon life partners. Sal's support would be critical to helping Lynn overcome her greatest obstacle.
In 1997, as Sal was going back to school to start a second career as a veterinarian, Lynn was diagnosed with breast cancer after a routine annual mammogram. She underwent a lumpectomy, radiation and chemotherapy treatment, a regimen that seemed to work. But in 2000, Lynn's doctor discovered a tumor in her other breast during another mammogram. She opted for a double mastectomy to remove the tumor and reduce the risk of future cancer. The strategy was effective for several years, but in 2009 Lynn experienced pain in her pelvis and an examination showed that the cancer had metastasized in her bones. Fortunately, Lynn caught it early enough to stop its growth and reverse it into remission, where it remains today.
Lynn's diagnoses brought her and Sal closer together. During each ordeal, the two stayed hopeful, kept active, focused on the positive and remained committed to enjoying life. The couple took a trip to Hawaii after Lynn's first bout with cancer. After her second diagnosis, the pair took a year off and traveled around the world, a trip that included summiting Mt. Kilimanjaro, Africa's highest peak.
"Almost a year to the day from my last chemo treatment, we were standing on the summit of Kili," Lynn said. "That was a very sweet and emotional moment. Coming down, I felt like I was getting on with my life."
Sal believes Lynn's unwillingness to let cancer dictate her life allowed her to stay strong in spite of two primary tumor diagnoses and a recurrence.
"Lynn has a very powerful story to show you can thrive and survive and have a wonderful life in spite of cancer," Sal said. "I think her story is compelling to those who have the diagnosis and think life is over. It's not over until it's over."
It was Sal who first learned about the Climb to Fight Breast Cancer and thought it was the perfect outlet for Lynn. In 2005, Lynn completed her first Climb to Fight Breast Cancer peak. Since then, she has topped 15 more mountains, the most recent one – Mt. Olympus in Washington state – on her 71st birthday. Over the course of her climbs, she has raised more than $200,000 for the cause.
The commitment to cancer research, and the incredible amount of support that Lynn has received through the Climb to Fight Breast Cancer, left a permanent impression on her and Sal. In August 2012 the couple established a $50,000 initial endowment to support breast cancer research at Fred Hutch. A year later, they added another $50,000 to their fund.
Sal said she and Lynn live the way they do so they can make the kind of commitments they have to breast cancer research.
"We have a vested interest in finding a cure and are impressed and intrigued with the Hutch pilot projects, which need funding but aren't quite ready for large National Institutes of Health grants," Sal said. "We truly believe one of those brilliant researchers will be the one to make a breakthrough and find a cure."