Lori Higgins
Lori Higgins

Summit Day
Wednesday, March 01
On days six and seven of our trip we made our journey to the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro. I had no idea what this portion of the journey would bring but I suspected it would be the most difficult yet incredible trek we would have. Once we had made it as far as we had come, the only thing to do is to keep going and get to the top. 
 
We had a morning trek to the next camp up followed by a rest period. We ate our "breakfast" around 10 p.m. and set off for the summit in the dark of night at 11 p.m. Although we were all prepared with gear, it is hard to describe the bone chilling wind and cold you experience at 16,000 feet in the middle of the night.
 
The ground was frozen and terrain steep and rocky. Everyone seemed to be in their zone with a guide both in front and behind them to help them navigate. As I looked up, all I could see was a steady tiny trail of headlamps from all the surrounding camps who had also begun their final ascent. It was very surreal.
 
I often looked up at the sky which was so black yet sparkling bright with stars. At this elevation they seemed so crisp, like you could identify every constellation and appeared close enough to reach up and grab. I more than once shook my head in disbelief and tried to imprint it in my brain knowing I would never see this scene, with this amazing team, again. With my loss of my husband, I have really taught myself to live in and appreciate each moment. This one was extraordinary.
 
It was so cold and windy those first five hours. If there was ever a time I was doubting my endurance this was likely it. Luckily, Sunday, the guide whom I had come to know and adore was right behind me. Sunday had a running joke with our team that he has five wives (he actually is happily married with one wife) but needed a sixth so I agreed. He would see me along the trail and yell out "my wife!" and hug me. He is a big guy with a very gentle spirit and huge heart. He often gave my shoulders a squeeze and a reassurance that he was still there. He carried my pack for me so that I could conserve my energy.
 
At one particularly hard point I was overcome with emotion and thinking of my husband. I started crying and turned and Sunday just hugged me and patted my back. I asked him to please remember, in case I became too confused at the summit, to take Tom's favorite Yankees ball cap out of my pack that I had carried to wear at the summit. He assured me he would.
 
During those brutal five hours before sunrise, it dawned on me that here was this big Tanzanian guy with whom I have not much in common, yet he and I talked and trekked together for so many hours along this trail and had formed a bond. He, at that moment, along with our entire team of almost 100 people including the porters had everything in common which was to get us safely to the summit. We had the shared human experience of love of life, love of family and the longing to enjoy this day and then safely get back to our homes.
 
As a team our goal was to raise money to fund research for this rare disease we all have in common.  However, along the way to the summit we all got to know each other and have this extraordinary experience together that will be unforgettable.
 
Just before sunrise, we were greeted by porters from our team with some hot tea. I don't think I've ever been so happy to see a sunrise in my life. We finally got some relief from the cold and trekked onward and upward. At 18,900 feet we hit Stella Point which was an amazing accomplishment. We took a team photo with the banners including my teammate Gary's who had pictures of patients who have passed away. Gary went to great lengths to get that banner to the top and I can't thank him enough for including Tom's photo. 
 
We moved onto Uhuru Peak and Sunday once again assured me all would be fine. We had a momentum going but I was unprepared for the beauty and exhilaration of breathing at over 19,000 feet. The views including the glacier were unbelievable. About 20 yards away from the sign at the Peak I was totally overcome with emotion. Sunday hugged me tight and practically picked me up to get in front of the Peak sign, and said "you did it Mama, you did it!" I don't think that feeling of gratification from that moment will ever be replicated. The other members of our team began arriving shortly thereafter and many hugs and tears were shared. 
 
I'm so proud to be a part of this team and consider them all dear friends. It was an incredible accomplishment that we achieved together. I also cannot say enough about our support team, guides and the people of Tanzania. The beauty of this country and the kindness and generosity of its people will remain in my heart forever. It is truly their spirit that helped get this MMRF team to the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro.
Finding Strength on Mt. Kilimanjaro
Tuesday, February 14
With less than a month to go until my trek up Mt. Kilimanjaro, I must confess I have no idea what to expect. I am training to the best of my abilities and have all my gear prepared.  However, with elevation over 19,000 feet, I’ve been told the biggest factor is acclimatization and how my body reacts to the altitude. Sometimes when I’m putting in my miles I wonder, what was I thinking attempting to do this? What if I get sick and have to turn around? What if I injure myself? There are so many unknowns, but then I realize this is the true lesson in life. We never know what’s going to happen tomorrow. If you would have asked me three years ago before my husband’s multiple myeloma diagnosis, how I would picture myself raising our kids without him, I would’ve said it won’t happen. You would have to take me with him. In fact, I did actually say that on more than one occasion. 
 
Unfortunately, life doesn’t always go our way, and this is the lesson I am trying to teach my kids.  At 44, I have come to realize that life is more about resilience and coping skills than it is about planning. I am quite sure that Mt. Kilimanjaro is going to test me both physically and mentally, but so does my daily life. Tom was an incredibly loving and very hands-on father and husband.  Despite a heavy work and travel schedule, he also took care of so many tasks in our home.  Taking on all of these duties by myself has been a huge adjustment for both me and our kids. The vast hole he left behind is simply immeasurable. 
 
I will likely need to tap into the same skills I’ve acquired since navigating these new challenges during the climb. I’m sure I’ll get tired, cold and uncomfortable in my tent (I’m not a camper) and start to complain to myself. I’ll probably get frustrated and want to quit. But I’ll hopefully find a way back to my center and also seek and accept help from others. I’ll tap into energy and strength that seems to come out of nowhere just when I need it. I’ll focus my thoughts on my husband, who went through so much discomfort, anguish and sacrifice, all to stay here and spend whatever precious time with us that the treatment would get him. I’ll also think about the multiple myeloma patients currently battling this disease, including some of my teammates. I have so much gratitude to be a part of this team, and also for my own health, which allows me to attempt to hike this mountain and also enables me to conjure up the strength to move forward in my life despite the loss of my husband. 
A Trip for Thomas
Friday, January 13
My husband, Dr. Thomas D. Higgins, passed away last year from multiple myeloma. “Tommy,” as he was known by his close friends and family, was the smartest, funniest and most focused person I’ve ever met. If he decided he wanted to set a goal or simply try something new, he didn’t talk about, he just did it. This trait of his has probably had the most profound effect on me since his passing. Besides the love and strength of his that I carry with me every day, I think about how he packed so much life into his short 44 and a half years, and how can I try to do the same with whatever time I am given in this life?
 
This is how I came to the realization that I needed to be a part of this trek up Mt. Kilimanjaro. Tom and I loved hiking and exploring new terrain. We incorporated hikes into every trip we took, and when we lived in California, we went on a hike every weekend. We loved the exhilaration that you can really only find from outdoor exercise. When Tom came home from his second business trip to Africa in 2013, he declared that we needed to start planning our leisure trip to the continent. He had hiked up Table Mountain in South Africa and had also gotten some recommendations for local areas to explore and restaurants to try.
 
In early 2014, we were in Hawaii, and while he was swimming in the ocean he loved so much, he felt his collar bone break. This ultimately led to the cancer diagnosis right after our return home and our lives came to a screeching halt. We tried as best we could to live as normal as possible between treatments and keeping our kids’ schedules on track. However, being tethered to a hospital for daily infusions, endless testing, managing side effects, and the fatigue brought on by the disease and the treatment is certainly not normal at all. I think of all that he endured, and how he did it without a second thought so that he could be here with us for as long as possible.
 
Nobody knows how much time we have in this life. I have a rare opportunity to try to make a difference by raising funds and awareness and, at the same time, get to visit this amazing country and carry Tom’s spirit and determination with me up Mt. Kilimanjaro. I’m so grateful to accept this challenge and am incredibly thankful to all who have supported me.
 
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