At the summit of Tanzania’s Mount Kilimanjaro, Matt King, MD, and the 15 members of his climbing party unfurled a flag honoring friends and family who have battled cancer. Among the climbers were four survivors who had faced cancer a combined seven times. They joined Dr. King as participants in Survivor Summit, a non-profit organization he co-founded two years ago with his brother Paul, who is an orthopedic surgeon at AAMC.
The organization leads cancer survivors and their supporters on expeditions to the top of Africa’s tallest mountain. “It’s hard to put into words the power of that kind of experience,” says Dr. King. “It felt like the people whose names were on the honor flag were along with us on the trip.” A primary care physician in Chester on the Eastern Shore, Dr. King, his four brothers and his closest friend founded Survivor Summit as a way to inspire those struggling with cancer and to make a difference in the world. Along with funding the expeditions, donations to the organization support the Livestrong foundation, which raises awareness for cancer patients and promotes patient navigation services.
“We had many powerful moments with the survivors during the climb,” he says. “One of the climbers celebrated her one year ‘cancerversary’—that’s one year being cancer free—while we were on the mountain.”
This was the second expedition for Survivor Summit. Two of Dr. King’s brother’s led the first expedition in 2012.
At the beginning of expedition, the team made the decision to stay together throughout the entire climb. Fewer than 20 percent of those who attempt Kilimanjaro actually succeed, and staying in a large group rather than breaking into smaller more efficient teams would make the challenge even more difficult. But the message their decision sent was clear—they would support each other and help each other throughout the physical and emotional struggle to reach to top. And they succeeded.
“The way we all banded together and became a cohesive unit in two weeks was just amazing,” says Dr. King. “It really was emotionally overwhelming.”