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The Uphill Climb of Breast Cancer: Making a Difference for Mom

October conjures up emotional sentiment and seasonal experiences for many: the leaves begin to change; that cool fall breeze begins to blow; college football is in full swing; and the smell of pumpkin spice season is everywhere. For the last 22 years, October brings me a very different feeling. For me October is one thing:  Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

My mom, Maria Lucarelli was diagnosed with Breast Cancer the Friday after Thanksgiving in 1998. After a valiant 2 ½ year battle against this monster, one fraught with many small wins and many larger defeats, she passed away in April 2001 at home surrounded by her family. For a son, who was also her primary caregiver, the sights, sounds, and conversations are part of a set of memories that for a long time I avoided.  It was too painful and easier to bury the memories of those days and replace them with better ones from happier times with Mom.

Maria Lucarelli

I was still avoiding when in October of 2006, I had a bit of a breakthrough. I was seeing many pink co-promotional initiatives and hearing from survivors I knew that I had to do something productive.  I needed to help myself heal but also act upon one of the most important lessons that my mom had instilled in me; to help others. It was during a flight to Charleston, SC for my friend’s wedding that I decided I would go to Africa to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro – and thus The Climb To Beat Breast Cancer was born.

In February of 2007, I travelled to Tanzania and took on a solo effort to scale one of the 7 summits of the world. In retrospect, not the brightest decision for someone with absolutely zero high altitude experience at the time. Before departing, I met with some passionate and visionary leaders from The St. John/Ascension Healthcare team in Detroit. I shared with them my idea for creating an annual climb to raise awareness and funding to support women, who like my mom, are faced with the biggest uphill battle of their lives. I found a lot of parallels between climbing a mountain and this challenge of taking on breast cancer, and fortunately I found some great partners at St. John who wanted to go on this journey with me.

Year one and year two were solo efforts and after my successful summitting of Mt. Kilimanjaro in 2007 I took on another of the 7 summits of the world with a much more treacherous ascent of Mt. Aconcagua in Argentina in 2008. While these global expeditions were extremely fulfilling, and personally and financially successful for the fundraiser, I knew there was more that could be done. My vision from the start was to make this a bigger effort, a team effort, and something that was not about me or just one person’s journey. In 2009, the third year marked the first team event with 14 brave climbers joining me in Colorado for an ascent of Pike’s Peak.

Since then, each year we have assembled an ever-growing crew of brave, passionate, and committed individuals to join us for climbs across the high-points of many states in the US.  From Maine to Georgia, Tennessee to Utah, the last 14 years has seen The Climb To Beat Breast Cancer grow in numbers, supporters, and donations that have exceeded my original expectations. Our team has grown to include doctors, nurses, entire families, and most importantly survivors. I’ve experienced the joy of seeing young kids when they first climbed now going off to medical school. And most impactful, I had the privilege of meeting and befriending a survivor who was the first direct beneficiary of funds from our climb efforts. This woman is indeed my “she-ro” and forever reminds me that she is not just a survivor, but in fact a CONQUEROR.

It is that spirit of conquering something bigger than oneself that has kept me driven in continuing to push our efforts to reach new heights. When I first departed for Africa, I was inspired by a quote: “A giant may conquer many, but many working together can conquer a giant.” Over these past 14 years, we have worked together to help conquer the giant of breast cancer for many women. The Maria R. Lucarelli endowment fund has raised over $500,000 to help support uninsured and underinsured women battling this devastating disease.

June 26, 2021 will mark the 15th anniversary of The Climb To Beat Breast Cancer.  On this milestone anniversary, our team will be headed to tackle the highest peak of Vermont Mt. Mansfield. We are always looking for more climbers to join our team.  Additionally, you can support us by visiting:  https://stjohnprovfoundations.org/events/climb-to-beat-breast-cancer/donate

We have all been impacted by this disease either directly or indirectly so please take time in October to think about your mom, grandmother, sister, daughter, any female friend or colleague who has been challenged by breast cancer. Know that together we can accomplish so much to help these brave warriors in becoming conquerors.

Francesco Lucarelli and his Mom, Maria Lucarelli, Fall 2000

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