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Cancer survivor, Mary Free Bed Guild member gears up for trek to Mount Everest Base Camp

Anne Chamberlin has a simple mission: “My goal every day is to feel alive.”

The 56-year-old East Grand Rapids native is a wife and mother of four, friend and philanthropist. And a cancer survivor ready to feel more alive than she ever has.

Anne, a member of the Mary Free Bed Guild, will leave Oct. 4 for Nepal to see Mount Everest, the world’s highest mountain. She’ll spend 16 days on an Everest Base Camp trek with nine other hikers from England, Ireland, Scotland and California, and four professional guides. They’ll be joined by four Sherpa – native mountaineers who also will serve as guides on the expedition – five yaks to transport gear and a yak herder.

“I have always been fascinated with Mount Everest,” said Anne, who was looking for a reason to work out harder as she regained her strength.

Anne was diagnosed in 2012 with Stage IV non-Hodgkin lymphoma, just as she was packing for her honeymoon with her husband, Lew. She endured weeks of grueling chemotherapy and radiation to attack the aggressive form of cancer, and also had her spleen removed.

An avid runner since high school, Anne battled back and began training for the 2014 River Bank Run. She completed Grand Rapids’ popular 25K and raised $15,000 for the American Cancer Society.

But a year later, she was dealt another blow and diagnosed with Stage III cancer in her neck and throat. She underwent surgery and more arduous chemotherapy and radiation.

Since then, she’s had a clean bill of health and a renewed focus on what matters most.

“I’m feeling really positive about the days ahead,” she said. “I want to encourage all cancer patients to have hope and to find something – no matter how small – to do every day that makes them feel alive and grateful for that one day.”

After her initial bout with cancer, Anne was asked by Dr. Chris VandenBerg, a physiatrist at Mary Free Bed, for her input as he developed what is now the Betty Bloomer Ford Cancer Rehabilitation Program. Rehabilitative care specifically for cancer patients leads to better patient outcomes by improving muscle strength, coordination and cognitive function.

As a member of the Mary Free Bed Guild, Anne also was involved in the adaptive tennis program and organized the first wheelchair softball event at Fifth Third Ballpark, home of the West Michigan Whitecaps (her husband, Lew, is CEO). That led to creation of an adaptive softball team.

“Being an athlete, athletes with disabilities are very special to me,” she said.

To prepare for her trek in October, Anne has undergone a vigorous exercise program at the Mary Free Bed YMCA, a first-of-its-kind health and wellness facility for people of all abilities. The Guild invested in the project as part of its mission to foster hope and freedom.

“It has a special place in my heart,” Anne said.

She’s working hard to get ready for the challenging journey to Mount Everest Base Camp, a site in Nepal at an altitude of more than 17,500 feet and 50 percent less oxygen than found at sea level. From there, the group will climb to 18,400 feet to see the Khumbu Icefall, considered one of the most dangerous obstacles on the route to Everest’s summit.

Anne can’t wait.

“I am most looking forward to experiencing the culture and meeting the people, but to walk the path that all climbers walk – those attempting to summit Mount Everest – thrills me,” Anne said. “To see the mountain will probably bring me to tears. It will be a huge affirmation that I am alive and able to physically and mentally achieve something huge – especially after cancer.”

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