Anet Julius, a nursing leader at the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre, climbed to Mount Everest Base Camp over the course of 11 days, fighting altitude and unpredictable weather conditions, to raise money for cancer research. (Photo: Courtesy Anet Julius)

When Anet Julius decided to climb Mount Everest Base Camp, she had no idea how hard it would be.

Or, how rewarding.

Accompanied by a team of 47 strangers - all fellow healthcare workers, cancer survivors, or family of people who were impacted by the disease  Anet successfully completed the ascent, raising $18,000 to benefit The Princess Margaret Cancer Foundation and Radiating Hope, a non-profit organization whose goal is to combine mountaineering with improving cancer care in developing countries.

But the purpose of her trek was more than fundraising. Anet's choice to climb to the Base Camp of the world's tallest mountain was symbolic of the journey cancer patients go through.

"I don't think I could ever appreciate what a person with cancer will go through, that's a different type of challenge that I cannot even imagine," says Anet, Director of Professional Practice at the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre.

"But this was certainly an experience that shed some light into what patients with cancer may experience and the importance of mental and emotional endurance, being a team player, the power of people coming together."

Along with high altitudes comes a whirlwind of uncomfortable, and at times, extremely challenging symptoms; the lack of oxygen forced her to conserve her breath as much as she could, preventing her from laughing out loud or talking to others during the trek. The dust in the air caused a persistent cough, the water contamination gave her gastrointestinal issues, in addition to headaches and nausea at the high altitude.

"It was interesting because some of these symptoms, whether it be shortness of breath, losing your appetite, exhaustion, tiredness, GI issues – those are all things that a lot of our patients experience," she explains.

As Anet experienced these symptoms, she began getting vivid images of the patients she's cared for, especially from her early days as an oncology nurse on a sarcoma unit. She recalled, in particular, a patient with cancer who died of severe dehydration due to the gastrointestinal issues their condition and treatment caused.

"I kept getting memories of my patients who couldn't get out of bed because of severe fatigue, people who couldn't eat because of their loss of appetite and the non-stop journey they had to go through," she says.

This experience opened her eyes to the privilege she has in not only being healthy, but in being able to contribute to improving cancer care.

"At the end of my 11-day journey, I was able to come back down from the altitude and I was much better," Anet explains. “People with cancer can't just do that.

"This opportunity and experience made me truly appreciate my privilege as a member of TeamUHN, as a Canadian and the privilege of being able to do something to make a difference."

Funds benefitting the Princess Margaret, Kathmandu Cancer Center

On her journey up the mountain, Anet carried prayer flags. (See related item at the bottom of the story.)

"In honour of all patients I have had the incredible privilege of providing care for, and in honour of sponsors and UHN colleagues who contributed to improving cancer care, I tied prayer flags at Everest Base Camp, which will remain at Everest until the threads slowly unravel and blow into the mountain breeze," she says.

"Tying the flag was an immense moment of appreciation, reflection, and something extremely special to me."

The climb was organized by Radiating Hope, whose goal is to combine mountaineering with improving cancer care in developing countries. Anet raised $18,000, half of which will go to The Princess Margaret Cancer Foundation, with the remainder to Radiating Hope benefitting Kathmandu Cancer Center.

Laura Mitchell, Manager of Professional Practice at the Princess Margaret, says Anet is an inspiring leader, who always goes above and beyond for her colleagues and patients.

"Anet is always looking for opportunities to support individuals and their families coping with a cancer diagnosis, and her climb reflects just how ambitious and determined she is to improve patient care," Laura says.

Laura attributes Anet's successful leadership to her faith and strong sense of family and community values, which is reflected in the support she shows for her team and colleagues.

"When you have such strong values, you certainly have the ability to connect with your team," Laura says.

"And, in knowing how challenging a cancer diagnosis is for patients and families alike, she's able to advocate to ensure they receive the highest quality of care."

Without Anet's contributions and leadership, Laura says oncology nursing and health professions practice at the Princess Margaret would not be what it is today.

"With Anet, we always come together to work as a team and we're always there to support each other and make each other better," she says.

"She has not only enhanced the Collaborative Academic Practice portfolio within the oncology program, but the entire institution."

Anet is deeply grateful for all her sponsors – family, friends, UHN colleagues. Their words of encouragement and support was the fuel that pushed her forward on those tough inclines, their donations will make a difference at UHN, in Nepal and beyond.


In this photo, Anet holds the prayer flags she carried up the mountain on her trek. The organization Radiating Hope describes the flags this way: "The prayer flags have a long tradition of representing strength, hope, and well-being for the people they honour​. It is traditionally believed that as the mountain winds blow the flags, and the fragile threads slowly unravel away from the flags and blow into the breeze, that this action represents a thought of hope, strength, and well-being for the person it honours. We've watched the threads of the Radiating Hope prayer flags blow in the high mountain winds on many mountains and peaks around the world, honouring cancer patients in their journey through cancer."

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