Ten years after Mandela’s death, there is still a legacy to be discussed and overcome

Ten years after Mandela’s death, there is still a legacy to be discussed and overcome

El Pico de Orizaba: “The mountain is the cure,” says Ximena at the foot of Orizaba (5,610 m), the highest peak in Mexico, which the young woman is preparing to climb on crutches with fifteen other Mexican and French crab men. Survivors.

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

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

The adventure begins with a night of acclimatization in a refuge at 4,200 metres, then a six-hour hike on steep trails crossing volcanic stone canyons, with snow falling in places.

The engravings represent the first challenge of Jimena, 22, Erika, 23, and Fernando, 18, all three on crutches, and David, 30, fitted with a prosthetic under the left knee.

“I surprise myself with what I can do,” breathes Ximena Gutierrez, an amputee before she was 15 years old after suffering from osteosarcoma (bone cancer in young people).

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

The group reaches base camp at an altitude of 4,900 meters 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 quiet of the evening, Carla Boeheim, 19, recovers from her efforts, consoled by her sister Mary, 22, who has arrived by surprise from Canada.

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

Four days before she left for Mexico, doctors announced that she had had a third recurrence of nasopharyngeal cancer when she was nine years old.

“I’m lucky to be alive.”

“I said, ‘I don’t care, I’m coming anyway. I’ll make the most of it.’ While I’m here, the doctors are looking at what they can offer me as targeted therapy when they come back,” says the young woman, who stops with a few others on the Altitude: 4900 metres.

For candidates for the final summit assault, the short, freezing night in sleeping bags ends at 1 a.m., a good time to prepare themselves for the high mountains.

Without any special technical difficulty, the final ascent is a challenge for amateur mountaineers: a rope for four people with a guide, harness, crampons and poles, and a breathtaking climb at an altitude of 5,300 metres, with a gradient of 35 degrees.

The summit approaches as the day turns black, orange and sky blue.

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

“I feel strong,” smiles Ximena, taking in the landscape as far as the eye can see, with three other volcanoes on the horizon, Malinche (4,105m), Iztachihuatl (5,201m), and Popocatepetl (5,419m), the only ones in activity. As evidenced by the smoke plume.

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Erica lets the tears of joy flow.

“I’m lucky to have experienced things that not many people get to experience,” the tourism student says, thinking “of the people they 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 1980s and 1990s.

“Peak of Hope started 30 years ago in France,” explains the Frenchman who lives in Mexico, where he launched an organic products brand.

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

Since 1994, the “Plant Hope” Association has supported young people facing cancer to reach the heights.

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

The group of Franco-Mexican survivors separated last Sunday, with bags of shared memories and emotions. “We have won some battles and lost others,” Matteo wrote to them in a thank you letter. “The struggle continues.”

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About the Author: Irene Alves

"Bacon ninja. Guru do álcool. Explorador orgulhoso. Ávido entusiasta da cultura pop."

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