The Climb of My Life: A Miraculous Journey from the Edge of Death to the Victory of a Lifetime. Laura Evans. Harper: San Francisco, 1996. 268 pages. $22.00.
The Climb of My Life is a truly inspirational book, not just for women but for anyone who is faced with what may seem to be insurmountable odds. The book is interwoven with Evans’ reflections on her mountaineering experiences, its influence on her psyche and the almost-overwhelming impact of breast cancer. Unlike many mountaineering accounts, wherein the reader is gripped by the adventure of predictable danger, the attitude of this story is summarized eloquently with the passage, “The Mountain before me is one I did not choose to climb. I woke up instead at its base, looking up at its towering peaks, anticipating the unknown hardships that lay ahead.”
Evans’ story begins with her diagnosis of breast cancer, then switches back and forth between her diagnosis and incidents that apparently flashed through her mind during her initial discovery of a lump and her diagnosis. The transitions between the two are abrupt, making it difficult to follow, and I sometimes had to reread to determine where we were. This pattern of shifting from thought to thought without connection continues throughout the book until she begins her description of the actual climb of Aconcagua. Here her focus is much clearer.
The book has some very good ideas regarding mental attitude and motivation. My favorite was an exercise she did with the self-help group she started, in which everyone makes a list of the things that make them smile. When they examined the lists, they found that most of these things were easily obtainable. (I actually did this with my disgruntled teenage students-and it works.)
There are other feelings and thoughts the significance of which might be more obscure to those who have never been there. But I have been there, and I think I understood the significance of her story about Buster only because I had a similar experience. I prayed that I might have several years at the end of my chemotherapy to enjoy life and, a few days later, a dear friend who had become one of my guardian angels during my treatment was killed. I felt he had somehow taken my place in death.
The Climb of My Life is by no means a captivating, “can’t-put-it-down-until-I’m-finished” mountaineering account, like a Touching the Void. Evans’ story is better appreciated as a motivational novel. The conversational passages I found somewhat dry and the jumps from one train of thought to another annoying at times. But her story of fighting back against the odds of survival to climb the highest peak in the Western Hemisphere to raise money for Breast Cancer Research is truly inspirational. When you are told you have breast cancer, for which there is no known cure, it’s like a death sentence. When your body is scarred from surgery, wasted from the effects of chemotherapy and your odds are less than 50/50 for the next five to ten years, it’s sometimes hard to not give up. Laura Evans didn’t give up; instead, she continued reaching higher goals. In my opinion, the best part of the book was the conclusion in which she sums up her emotions on her journey by likening herself to the cartoon dog, Lucky. Despite the difficulties and the long lasting effects of the cancer and treatment, she feels lucky not only to be alive but to be able to climb for all those who can’t.