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Climbing mountain for breast cancer research

In a few weeks, Nancy Klimah will stand on top of California’s Mount Shasta waving Tibetan prayer flags, carrying messages from people to loved ones who have died of breast cancer.

While Klimah hasn’t had breast cancer, the disease has touched her life.

Klimah’s own journey began as a hairdresser, finding herself shaving the heads of women undergoing chemotherapy.

“And then I would shave their heads again,” Klimah said about when the cancer would reappear.

With over 30 years in the field, she has shaved countless heads and lost a few clients to breast cancer as well.

But then cancer hit closer to home. Klimah’s sister-in-law Arlene Pappalardo, of Naperville, was diagnosed several years ago, followed by Klimah’s mother.

Klimah, of Bolingbrook, had been part of the now-retired Luna Chix group in Naperville, a running team that raised money for the Breast Cancer Fund.

According to its website, the Breast Cancer Fund seeks to expose and eliminate environmental causes of breast cancer.

The basis is prevention: helping people say healthy and avoid exposure to harmful contaminants.

The website is filled with tips about what ingredients to avoid in everything from household cleaners to personal care products and cosmetics.

“The people at the Breast Cancer Fund have such a passion for this,” Klimah said.

After various triathlons and marathons, Klimah, 57, wanted to up the bar: she applied to be one of the climbers to do the Breast Cancer Fund’s “Climb Against the Odds 2014” hike to the top of Mt. Shasta, 14,179 feet high.

“It’s unbelievable that she’s doing to do this,” Pappalardo said.

A runner-walker, Pappalardo has been happy to encourage other women to do something whether that be eat better or simply walk.

But to climb to the top of a mountain?

“I said, ‘You’re crazy,’” Pappalardo said.

“Why not?” Klimah responded.

The family has pitched in, even with a recent garage sale in Naperville, to help raise funds for Klimah.

She had to raise a minimum of $6,000 and has just topped $11,000 with a few weeks before the climb in mid-June.

Klimah is one of 28 people who will make the trek. They have been in contact monthly via conference call, supporting each other, as they prepare for an incredible challenge.

She even has a mountaineer helping her along the way who told her, “With a name like Klimah, you have to reach the summit.”

The entire trip will take 12 to 16 hours, and at the top, Klimah and her teammates will hold up the prayer flags. The Tibetan people believe that flying the flags in the wind carries the messages to loved ones who have died.

While Klimah said she hasn’t counted how many flags she has so far, she believes it’s at least 50, and she is willing to take more.

The flags come with a donation of $100 and a message of about seven words that can be sent to her (see box).

Many of the climbers are survivors, and Klimah knows she is one of the oldest in the group, but she doesn’t let anything faze her.

“My job is to show up as strong as I can,” she said. “I’m excited, a little nervous. I know this will change me.”

As she prepares and waits for her journey to start June 15, Klimah has been researching Mount Shasta, finding out that it’s a sacred mountain and all who climb it can expect that the journey will change them.

Klimah doesn’t know how she will be different, but she is up to the challenge.

And she knows that she has been changed by the experiences of breast cancer that surround her because they led her to where she stands today.

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