Judy Allen, a social psychology professor at Drake University, says the idea of hiking up a mountain in Nepal seemed very appealing. She closely studies two spiritual paths, Christianity and Buddhism. Judy says, "The reason I have been interested in Buddhism is it really is a training of the mind."
Judy's training in Buddhism and meditation helped her greatly on the difficult hike up Imja Tse, or Island Peak in Nepal. It also helped her through her journey with breast cancer. Judy recalls the moment quite clearly when she felt her life change. "At that moment it really hit me that I just felt this connection with all the people who'd ever had that moment where they knew something difficult was happening to them. I just felt the connection, can't explain it. Not to a particular person, just to human beings.
Judy fought her way through treatment with the loving support of friends and family, and she beat breast cancer.
Dr. Richard Deming, a cancer doctor from Des Moines who lead the group on the climb says, "Part of the cancer journey is suffering, the physical suffering, but also the mental, philosophical, spiritual suffering that happens in anyone who's going through a life threatening disease."
Dr. Deming remembers Judy getting sick on the second day of climbing. He says through that suffering came compassion, " As she would suffer up the mountain she expressed only compassion to everyone else around her especially those that were helping her. She would apologize for the difficulty she was having."
Judy quickly recovered and assumed her roll as the group's Tai Chi instructor. Judy teaches Tai Chi as a moving meditation. It was one of many ways she connected with the other climbers on this trip.
Judy says there were long spans of time she found herself alone, simply putting one foot in front of the other, "I realized during that trekking I was having some terrific companionship and conversation or I was meditating without realizing it. It's like a meditation in motion."
Judy's spiritual path complimented her journey up this mountain. She completed the climb with flying colors, hanging the thousands of prayer flags in honor of people affected by cancer and doing it under the beautiful clear blue sky of the Himalayas.
Now, with a clear mind she realizes she has another path to pursue, a path that cancer has shown her, "In a sense, having cancer has really benefited me in many ways. There's no question when you think of that as a path it can intensify your efforts to learn, to grow, to be a benefit to others."
That's what Judy plans to do, use her cancer and climbing experience to benefit other people.