Trek to the top
WHEN the summit of Africa’s highest mountain seems impossible to reach, Belle Witchell will turn her mind to her father Brian.
The Inverloch Primary School teacher will recall the time she learnt he had oesophageal cancer, the 31 days he spent in intensive care and the five times he nearly died.
This Sunday, November 1, Ms Witchell flies out of Australia to trek to the top of Tanzania’s Mount Kilimanjaro, at 5895m the highest free standing mountain in the world, to raise money for gastrointestinal cancer research.
She is taking part in the GI Cancer Institute’s Gutsy Challenge, after seeing firsthand the life changing impact of cancer.
Cancer was found in her father’s oesophagus – the pipe that carries food from the mouth to the stomach. His oesophagus was removed and his stomach stretched to replace it. He also endured three months of chemotherapy.
His stomach is now so small he can only eat six to eight light meals a day and is no longer able to enjoy a beer.
But six months after the surgery, Mr Witchell, from Labertouche in West Gippsland, is cancer free.
“They got it early. I could not eat in the finish,” he said.
The summit of Mount Kilimanjaro is higher than Everest Base Camp and presents hikers with rainforest and a temperature of 25ºC at base camp and glaciers and -20 ºC at the top. The peak will take seven days of solid walking to reach.
“I’ve never done anything like this before. I just know there has to be a better way to treat these gastrointestinal cancers because the five year survival rate is horrendous,” Ms Witchell said.
“I do not think the physical pain I will experience on Kilimanjaro will be anything like what Dad went through.”
Ms Witchell believes she is physically and mentally ready for the adventure, having hiked to the lighthouse at Wilsons Promontory National and walked seven kilometres to school and back home, daily.
Her father is proud.
“I’ve seen what she’s up for and there is certainly going to be some pain there but good on her for helping the GI institute,” Mr Witchell said.
His daughter quipped, “The things you do for the ones you love.”
She has raised nearly $4500 so far, largely through family, friends and selling chocolate at school. Her Grade 1/2 class will hold a homemade lemonade stall to lift the final tally.
Her trek group, including a doctor and professor, has raised $105,000 and will be supported by professional guides and porters in reaching their goal.
While this will be Ms Witchell’s first trip to Africa, she is an experienced traveller, having been to Europe, Bali, Thailand and Vanuatu, where she undertook teaching rounds.
Beyond the trek, she will embark on a safari, see the spectacular Victoria Falls and celebrate her 30th birthday in Tanzania.
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