From the Alps to Mexico, the heights of hope in the face of cancer | TV5MONDE

“The mountain is therapy”, says Ximena at the foot of Pico Orizaba (5,610 m), the highest peak in Mexico, which the young woman is preparing to climb on crutches with around fifteen other Mexican and French cancer survivors.

Ximena, Erika, Fernando, David (all four amputees), Victor, Gabrielle, Carla, Jean-Marc…accept the challenge of the “Summit of Hope”, an initiative born in France to celebrate “life after cancer” .

For the first time, the French came to Mexico, after the trip of four Mexicans, including Ximena, to the Alps in July.

The adventure begins with a night of adaptation in a refuge at 4,200 m above sea level, followed by a six-hour hike along steep trails that cross volcanic stone ravines, with snow in some places.

The reliefs represent a first challenge for Ximena, 22 years old, Erika, 23 years old, Fernando, 18 years old, all three on crutches, and David, 30 years old, equipped with a prosthesis under his left knee.

“I’m surprised by what I’m capable of doing”, breathes Ximena Gutierrez, an amputee just before turning 15 after osteosarcoma (bone cancer in young people).

The mountain allows me to “exceed the limits and expectations I had for myself”, guarantees the makeup artist, who already climbed the ancient volcano last year.

The group arrives at base camp at 4,900 m, at the foot of the glacier, whose shadow appears in the sky at dusk. The “sherpas” set up tents on a rocky plateau, overlooking a layer of clouds.

In the peace of the night, Carla Bohème, 19 years old, recovers from her efforts, comforted by her sister Marie, 22 years old, who arrived unexpectedly from Canada.

“It’s a bit like when you fight an illness, you go to the end, you fight. There are ups and downs,” says the student from Franche-Comté, in eastern France.

Four days before her departure for Mexico, doctors announced a third recurrence of nasopharyngeal cancer, diagnosed when she was nine.

“I’m lucky to be alive.”

“I said: I don’t care, I’m going anyway. I’m going to make the most of it. While I’m here, the doctors are looking for what they can give me as targeted therapy when they come back,” says the young woman. – which stops with some others at 4,900 m.

For candidates for the final summit assault, the short freezing night in sleeping bags ends at one in the morning, time to gear up for the high mountains.

Without any particular technical difficulty, the final climb is a challenge for amateur mountaineers: four-person rope with guide, harness, crampons and poles, breathing difficulty at 5,300 m, with a 35-degree slope.

The summit approaches as day dawns in a gradient of black, orange and blue.

The edges of the crater, and then the summit, finally: after five to seven hours of effort depending on the rhythm of the ropes, around ten survivors reach the goal, including Ximena, Erika and Fernando, accompanied by their guide.

“I feel powerful”, smiles Ximena, contemplating the landscape as far as the eye can see, with three other volcanoes on the horizon, Malinche (4,105 m), Iztaccihuatl (5,201 m) and Popocatepetl (5,419 m), the only one in activity as indicated by your cloud of smoke.

Erika lets tears of joy flow.

“I am lucky enough to experience things that many have not been able to experience”, says the tourism student, thinking “about the people who have left along the way”.

Organizer Mathieu Dornier holds a photo of two of his three sisters, Emilie and Valérie, who died of leukemia in the 80s and 90s.

“The height of hope began 30 years ago in France”, explains the Frenchman who lives in Mexico, where he launched a brand of organic products.

“When one of my sisters relapsed for the second time, my father told her: ‘When you are in remission you will do Mont-Blanc’,” says the 40-year-old accompanied by his third sister, Pauline, who came from France.

Since 1994, the “Semear Esperança” association has supported young people facing cancer to reach the summit.

After their father’s death in 2022, Mathieu and Pauline continue the “Summits” adventure on both sides of the Atlantic “to give cancer survivors the same opportunity to overcome themselves”.

The group of French-Mexican survivors separated last Sunday, with suitcases of shared memories and emotions. “We won some battles and lost others”, Mathieu wrote to them in a message of thanks. “The fight goes on”.

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