The Mont Blanc Effect

In 10 days a group of 12 Japanese hikers, will arrive in Calgary to hike in the Rockies. They are all over 60 and all of them have been affected by cancer. Either they have had cancer or cared for those with cancer. They have also founded organizations that help survivors of cancer and the bereaved. Their purpose is to demonstrate to themselves and others that you can live an active, purposeful and joyful life while ageing  and while experiencing serious illness.

In 2017, they attempted to summit Mont Blanc, to commemorate the first climb that Dr. Jinroh Itami did with seven of his cancer patients 30 years prior, in 1987. Due to inclement weather they had to abandon that climb half way up. They had been training for two years and it was a great disappointment.


However, it didn’t stop them. Some of the group climbed different mountains in the area and they all celebrated their effort.

The following year three members successfully attempted the summit again and they succeeded.

The rest of their hiking group concentrated on climbing the eight mountains in Japan known as the Yatsugatake.

Their training continued in order to prepare for this year’s trek in the Canadian Rockies. The picture you see below is the last day of training as they summit the highest mountain in that group of 8, known as Akadake. (2899 metres high) The skills they were working on in this picture were ice breaking in preparation for the Rockies.

I am so impressed with their perseverance because the group is varied in their mountain climbing skill set.  Yet, they all trained hard and long with a mountaineer, over this past four years, to accomplish these feats.

Dr, Itami, who created Meaningful Life Therapy for his cancer patients back in 1981, realized that purposefully challenging yourself to go beyond your usual comfort zone was helpful in fighting cancer. His patients discovered new found physical and mental strengths that they didn’t know they had. They all went on to live full and active lives, many of whom lived much longer than originally predicted.

Besides the challenging aspects of climbing and hiking mountains, Dr. Itami’s patients were schooled in the arts of haiku, calligraphy, drawing and painting. Lending a hand to others, through ordinary everyday ways, as well as larger community endeavours. All of his patients were, and are encouraged to take on an active role in their own treatment and to learn the necessary skills of co-existing with uncertainty and the natural fear of death.

If you dropped in on one of his study groups you would hear a lot of laughter. Turning our attention to finding humour, even in the darkest hours gives our spirits a boost, if not our immune system. And focusing on what gets us up in the morning – our purposes, also known as our ikigai, allows people dealing with serious illness to live fully, accomplishing small controllable actions everyday that each person considers important to do before they die.

When I look at this photo, all I see is a group of joyful people having a great time. It makes me want to do whatever they are doing.

And guess what? I will get to experience my own challenge, as they are off scaling mountains. Thanks to a dear friend I will do a hiking/camping trip at Lake O’Hara in YoHo National Park. This is a stretch for me: camping; hiking in the mountains; encountering wild animals…and all the associated shinkiness that can accompany new things.

I have referred to my cycling trips as my personal challenge. Now I can add this next adventure. One thing I know is that when I came down off the Cabot Trail, my first big cycling trip at 65, I knew I could take on the world. It is time for a booster and apparently Lake O’Hara not only has mountains to climb but they are situated in one of the world’s most beautiful areas. Lucky, lucky me. Good luck to my friend Nancy who will be shepherding this newbie.

And good luck to our kindred spirits from Japan. May they have a successful and wonderful experience in the Canadian Rockies. There are several people looking forward to welcoming them to Canada.

I have learned a lifetime of lessons from Dr Itami and my Japanese friends and continue to do so. We have no idea when our last breath will come. But until then, Let’s sing while there’s voice left.


Note 1:) My friend Yoshie along with the group will be doing a presentation at Wellspring Calgary on Thursday afternoon August 1st. Please check the Wellspring Calgary website for details. So happy to be able to meet them in Calgary. Okinawa, Japan, is one of the Five Blue Zones in the world where people live the longest and most active lives. They attribute this to lifestyle factors and Ikigai/purposes.

Note 2:) Thanks to Nancy Wright for boldly taking me under her wing to camp and climb in Lake O’Hara.

Note 3:) You will see no more talk of weather on this site, at least until December. As Seth Godin says, “weather or anything else that’s not in our short-term control, can become an excuse and a distraction. If you can’t do anything about it, it might not be worth your focus an energy.”  I write this with a sheepish smile since I teach this exact message. And yet…reminders are needed and welcomed. I refuse to say that we are having a heatwave.

Note 4:) It is summertime and still so many of you continue to read this blog. Thank you! You and my grandchildren are part of my ikigai – my reason for getting up in the morning.

5 replies
  1. Yoshie
    Yoshie says:

    Oh, Trudy, your kindred spirit expresses our delight more than I can.
    I can hardly wait to meet you in Calgary. Thank you.

  2. Nancy
    Nancy says:

    Wonderful post Trudy. Can’t wait to meet our delightful Japanese visitors. They are already an inspiration…wait till they ‘conquer’ the Canadian Rockies!
    And it is I who is thankful for YOU coming to hike/camp at Lake O’Hara. I am so excited to share this most beautiful spot in the world with you. CAN.NOT.WAIT.

  3. Sheila Swanson
    Sheila Swanson says:

    Please greet all the Japanese hikers, but a special hug and hello to Yoshie. She and her husband were wonderful hosts and friends on our trips to Japan.
    “gambatte kudasai”
    Sheila and Jim

  4. Janice
    Janice says:

    Trudy, Yoshie and fellow hikers:
    Your presentation and presence at Wellspring Calgary today was an absolute inspiration. I am thirsty to learn more of Dr. Itami’s work and to break in my new hiking boots! Here’s to acorns and blue skies! Hurry back to Canada, we have many more hikes to share with you! Janice


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