On February 1, Sample, along with 17 other people, went for the trek up Kilimanjaro in northeast Tanzania.
A battle with cancer comes with a lot of uncertainty. A person can't say how many days or years they will survive, but the ones who do, sure have an inspiring story to tell the world. Tobi Sample was one of them, and she recently climbed one of the world's tallest mountains, Kilimanjaro, as reported by The Washington Post. In 2013, Sample had stage 4 melanoma, and she wasn't responding to treatment. Her family went on what they thought would be her last vacation. She and her husband decided on hospice, and she wrote letters to her daughters to be read at their milestones in life.
But she survived the disease. And what's more, climbed Mount Kilimanjaro this month. “I’m kind of one of those patients who doesn’t follow the rules all the time, I guess,” she said. Her trek to the mountain was a fundraiser for a charity, but she also wanted to show herself how far she has come since her diagnosis.
In 2013 Sample experienced excruciating pain on the regular. A tumor was found pressing her spinal cord and another one was beginning to erode her collarbone. By that summer, she was on supplemental oxygen and could not get out of bed much. Her family thought she had just months to live. But then, her husband, Stephen found a clinical trial that looked promising and made a list of participating hospitals. Sample joined a program in North Carolina and had to travel every three weeks for treatment from southern Indiana. Finally, the medicines worked, and in 2015, they came to know that she had no active evidence of the disease.
Sample began to return to her pre-cancer life by participating in half marathons. She burned the letters she wrote to her daughters. She then decided to hike up Mount Kilimanjaro for a charity called New Life, through which she sponsored a Rwandan girl's education. Her doctor warned her that the tumor erosion in her arm might lead to a broken bone when she brushed her hair, so hiking a 19,000-foot peak was way riskier. Her husband, however, was more supportive, and he told her not to let her stubbornness inspire her to push through debilitating altitude sickness. She was supposed to do this hike in 2020, but it got canceled due to the pandemic. With enough time to train, she decided to go for runs and did interval training to prepare for the hike.
On February 1, 2023, Sample along with 17 other people went for the trek up Kilimanjaro in northeast Tanzania. They walked for six and a half days and carried backpacks with their clothes for all weather while the porters carried their bigger bags from one camp to another. She said that it felt like being on a different mountain every day. For parts of the journey, they passed through the rainforest, while other parts needed basic rock climbing. On summit day, the group woke up at 12:30 am and traveled through the night, reaching the top in daylight. Sample had a terrible altitude headache and was desperate to sleep. But she felt grateful for what she had achieved, despite the doctors telling her that cancer had worn down her body.
“I felt just so thankful that I could carry a 25-pound backpack on my back that I shouldn’t be able to carry,” she said. “There’s no explanation for that.” After the hike, Sample, with the group, flew to Rwanda for the celebration with the sponsored children. She had raised $13,945 for Africa New Life's food program and she is happy to see that the money is going to a community she has begun to love. For her next adventure in life, Sample, who worked as an oncology nurse a few years ago, might be returning to that job.