New Heights


There are many ways to pay tribute to those who have valiantly fought cancer—fundraising galas, 5K runs, wearing a pink ribbon.

Then there is The Climb.

Dr. Robert Masson made it in February— a trek called Survivor Summit that didn’t involve scaling a wall or ascending an Appalachian mountain. Rather, the Orlando neurosurgeon joined 15 other hikers in climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, the African peak that, at 19,341 feet, is the highest freestanding mountain in the world. The group included cancer survivors as well as those, like Masson, whose families have been touched by the disease.

“My dad died last year of prostate cancer,’’ says Masson, founder of the NeuroSpine Institute. “My sister is a 20-year cancer survivor. I turned 50 in October and I had my own spinal cord artificial disc surgery in May, so it was also important for me to demonstrate my own recovery. I needed to do this.’’

Through pledges, Masson and the others raised $180,000 for an organization that Masson strongly supports: Livestrong, whose stated mission is to inspire and empower those affected by cancer. The hikers included former WESH-Channel 2 anchor Wendy Chioji, a cancer survivor, as well as Marc Middleton, formerly of WESH and now CEO of Growing Bolder, a local media company focusing on the 50-plus age group.

The metaphor for the effort was unmistakable—summoning the physical and mental strength to conquer a huge challenge. In this case it was a mountain that features multiple climate zones.

“We began at 90 degrees in rainforest and we finished below zero in deep, heavy glacier snow,’’ Masson says of the six days it took to get to the summit. “So we had everything in between.’’

Through it all, bonds were formed. As Middleton noted on his blog for Huffington Post: “We would succeed or fail as one. We were in this together, and together we would deliver our message that anything is possible. … We became a team of givers—carrying one another’s load when necessary, sharing food and supplies, offering encouragement and literally catching one another when we stumbled.’’

And stories were told. “There were so many, and we had so much time to talk about the people we were representing,’’ Masson says. “We decided on day one that if any of us didn’t make it, we were really letting down a lot of people back home. So we bobbed and weaved and divided and conquered and figured out a way for all 16 to get to the top.

“I think there were four or five of us whose sole responsibility for the last 3,000 feet was to make sure that people didn’t fall down the mountain because they were getting hypoxia [oxygen deprivation because of high altitude] and having problems with balance. It was one half-step after another.’’

But reach the summit they did. And standing there, nearly on top of the world, Masson had a moment he’ll always remember.

“I really hadn’t dealt with my father’s death at all. So when I spread his ashes out off the top of the summit, that was really the first time I even let my guard down to think about it or acknowledge his death. So it was very emotional.’’ On the descent, he was able to call his sister Calley, who was crying tears of joy.

Masson is looking forward to another fundraising “mountain experience’’ next year, although he’s not sure where. But his philosophy at the half-century mark is a solid one.

“I think as we get older we become safer and more cautious and less active,’’ he says. The Kilimanjaro experience “was life-affirming and life-changing. It just allowed me to prove that I’m still pushing and still trying and taking myself forward.’’

Edit Module
Want to read the whole issue? Download and read this issue and others on Magzter.

Add your comment:
Edit Module Edit ModuleShow Tags


Edit ModuleShow TagsEdit ModuleShow Tags

Guides & Resources

2015 Best Lawyers

When you need an attorney, you want someone with a strong reputation and a proven track record. The annual Best Lawyers® list provides the names of Orlando-area attorneys most recommended by their colleagues in the field.

Orlando's Top Dentists of 2015

Our annual list featuring 216 of the area’s finest dental professionals.

Dentists Q&As

We selected 4 dentists to weigh in on questions related to dental health.

Guide to Private Schools 2015

Our annual guide to private schools will help you chart an educational course for your family.

2014 Finest Doctors

Two national surveys name the Best and Top Doctors in Orlando, as recommended by their peers.

Orlando's Top Chiropractors of 2014

More than 75 Central Florida chiropractors make our inaugural list.

Fall Getaways

Fall is finally on its way and now is the perfect time to plan your getaway. Check out some of these great deals and special destinations just a short drive from Orlando.

Real Estate's Hot 100

Whether you’re trying to buy or sell real estate, getting the best deal means finding an agent who possesses savvy and know-how and gets results. This list showcases some Central Florida agents who have demonstrated those skills.
Edit ModuleShow Tags

MoreRecent Blog Posts

Celebrities Who Got Their Start in Orlando

Check out our list of celebrities with Orlando roots.

Celebrities From Orlando

Handmade Home: Pastel Party

Deck out your Easter gathering with the colors of spring.

The 411 on I-Drive 360

10 Things You Should Know About Orlando's Newest Attraction