Compassion “above and beyond” Mt. Everest

Karen Parman and the other cancer survivors who trekked to Mt. Everest’s base camp forged an amazing bond of friendship (see her story on pages 10-14 of the August 24, 2011 Christian Renewal). Members of the group, known as the “Above and Beyond Cancer” team, made their historic trek in April of 2011, but have continued close contact since their return to Iowa.

“Truly, they are family,” Karen says. “We have seen how we react under extreme circumstances. We are real around each other and accept each other as family members.”

The “Above and Beyond” bond strengthens as the survivors frequently meet for meals, sports events, and cancer-related fundraisers. But their most incredible fundraising effort yet reaches all the way back to their friends in Nepal.

Not long after the group’s return, they learned that the wife of the head Sherpa guide who led them to Mr. Everest’s base camp had been diagnosed with Chronic Myeloid Leukemia (CML).

Photo courtesy of Deb L. Avitt

“Lhakpa was our lead Sherpa and became part of our trekking family. His wife, Ang Lhakpa, was also one of our Sherpas,” Karen says. “She had a motherly instinct and a ready smile. You sensed her joy and pride at being on this journey with her husband. When two members of our group were deemed by Lhakpa too sick to continue, she stayed with them and nursed them back to the point that they were able to travel back to her home. She continued to care for them and took them to a lesser peak’s base camp. In some ways, they had a better trek than the rest of us.”

Justin Anderson, one of the “Above and Beyond Cancer” survivors who heads up the Ang Lhakpa fundraising effort, relates that everyone in the Sherpa community shares the formal name “Sherpa.”

“The word ‘Sherpa’ means ‘people from the East’ and was given to this community more than 500 years ago when they moved into the Nepal Himalaya from the Tibetan Plateau,” says Justin. “The Sherpa people are usually named for the day of the week on which they were born. Ang Lhakpa was born on a Wednesday, and ‘Lhakpa’ means ‘Wednesday’ in Nepali. She carries a less common modifier, ‘Ang,’ which means ‘beautiful’ or ‘angelic.’ This modifier is reserved for the most beautiful babies, and is applied equally to boys and girls.”

“Ang Lhakpa’s husband is also named ‘Lhakpa,’ because he was also born on a Wednesday,” he adds. “As you can imagine, these naming traditions lead to a lot of confusion in Nepal as the Sherpa people use only a few names. We often have to refer to our friend as Ang Lhakpa Sherpa, from Khumjung.”

Justin explains that CML is a chronic form of leukemia that is not immediately life-threatening if properly treated with frequent monitoring and an effective, but expensive, oral medication that can cost as much as $38,000 per year. That figure is more astounding when considering Nepal’s average annual income of about $280 per person, which explains why the medicine is rarely used in the country.

Dr. Richard Deming, Medical Director at Mercy Cancer Center who organized the Mt. Everest trek, has arranged with the drug’s manufacturer and the Max Foundation to provide Ang with the medication she needs for the rest of her life. The “Above and Beyond” group is raising money for Ang’s associated travel, doctor, and hospital expenses.

“To get from her home to the hospital, she walks for two days to the airport,” explains Justin. “She then takes a 45 minute flight from Lukla to Kathmandu. The airport in Lukla is quite an adventure, and is rated as the most dangerous airport in the world. In Kathmandu, she visits an emerging cancer center called Patan Hospital. While the services provided there are cutting-edge for Nepal, they are far, far, below western standards. She goes to the hospital every two to three weeks and pays for all the expenses related to these visits in cash.”

“Without additional funding,” he adds, “Ang Lhakpa will not be able to get to the hospital to receive the monitoring and services needed to properly manage her leukemia. The good news is that the expenses are relatively low by western standards. Small contributions can have a big impact in a country like Nepal.”

“Above and Beyond Cancer” is a non-profit organization in the state of Iowa, with an endowment managed by the Community Foundation of Greater Des Moines. Donations for expenses related to Ang’s care can be sent to:

Above & Beyond Cancer – Ang Lhakpa Fund
Community Foundation of Greater Des Moines
1915 Grand Avenue
Des Moines, IA 50309

Persons donating twenty dollars or more will receive a special wristband in honor of Ang Lhakpa.

“When I learned that Ang Lhakpa had leukemia, it was as if the veil was lifted from my eyes,” says Karen. “While I was convinced that God had me on this trip for a reason, I did not know what that reason was. I trusted He would show me in His time and while He taught me marvelous personal applications for my faith and life I still wondered, ‘What’s the bigger picture?’”

“He kept before my eyes and my heart how one man, years ago, made a significant difference in the Khumbu region of Nepal because he fell in love with the land and the people. That man was Edmund Hillary. I knew that God could do the same again, but I didn’t see how until I learned that Ang Lhakpa had leukemia.”

“Was it a coincidence that a group of cancer survivors spent three weeks bonding as a family with each other and praying for our ‘new Sherpa’ family daily? I don’t think so. Was it a coincidence that God brought this diverse group of survivors together to bond in such a way that Lhakpa would feel compelled to call us when his wife was diagnosed? I don’t think so. Was it a coincidence that Dr. Richard Deming was the force behind this trip and because of his connections Ang Lhakpa received the help she needed? Again, I don’t think so. I see God moving behind the scene, moving men to do His will by showing His love and compassion to a culture that lacks Christian influence.

Did I have cancer to show me the Nepali need for Christ? Is cancer care and fundraising my calling to open their hearts to hearing the gospel? I’m willing to go where God is leading and I believe He is opening the doors in Nepal. Less than one percent of Nepali citizens get diagnosed. Those who do, do not have the funds for treatment. We can provide them with treatment for their physical ailments while showing them the treatment for their spiritual blindness. Please join me in praying for Nepal.”

The above article by Glenda Mathes appeared on pages 18-20 of the October 26, 2011, issue of Christian Renewal.

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