A worthy climb

Local ascending Mount Shasta to raise money for breast cancer advocacy group

Lucas Parsons, pictured working Klean Kanteen’s booth at the Thursday Night Market, has been training in Upper Bidwell Park in preparation for his ascent of Mount Shasta (below).

Lucas Parsons, pictured working Klean Kanteen’s booth at the Thursday Night Market, has been training in Upper Bidwell Park in preparation for his ascent of Mount Shasta (below).


Donate to the cause:
Go to www.breastcancerfund.org/events/climb-against-the-odds to donate to Climb Against the Odds or for more information about the Breast Cancer Fund.

The decision to climb a 14,179-foot mountain came pretty easily for Lucas Parsons. That may sound daunting to many, but tackling Mount Shasta—the fifth highest peak in California—is nothing compared with the uphill battle this country faces against cancer.

Parsons knows this because he’s been affected by the disease. When he was younger, his cousin was diagnosed with brain cancer (and is a survivor), and Parsons lost his grandmother Ruby to cancer in January.

His cousin was only 20 when she was diagnosed, which raised plenty of red flags for Parsons, a quality manager at Klean Kanteen. He’s even more mindful of it now that he has a wife and a baby girl of his own. He thinks about it differently, however, focusing more on toxins we encounter every day and their role in causing cancer.

“I asked myself, ‘What is going on here?’” explained Parsons. “I’m really dedicated to the idea of helping to prevent cancer. There’s just a lot more that can be learned.”

Next week, 34-year-old Parsons will take on Mount Shasta for Climb Against the Odds, along with a team of about 25 men and women from across the country who’ve been directly and indirectly affected by cancer. The event is organized by the San Francisco-based nonprofit Breast Cancer Fund, which—like Parsons—is focused on preventing breast cancer by eliminating the toxic chemicals and radiation that have been linked to the disease. Andrea Martin launched the organization out of her apartment in the early-’90s after she was diagnosed with breast cancer for a second time. Martin made the group’s inaugural climb in 1995, when she and 16 other breast cancer survivors ascended Mount Aconcagua in Argentina.

Martin was a powerful voice in the fight against breast cancer until her death in 2003, two years after doctors diagnosed her with a malignant brain tumor. It was around that time that Breast Cancer Fund President and CEO Jeanne Rizzo worked to shift the organization’s focus to prevention.

“She took a really hard look at Breast Cancer Fund, and was astonished that nobody else was looking at prevention,” said Sharima Rasanayagam, the organization’s director of science. Rasanayagam joined the group a few years ago, and has since seen the positive impact Breast Cancer Fund has had. A few examples include the organization’s campaigns resulting in Johnson & Johnson removing chemicals known to cause cancer from its products and Campbell Soup Co.’s eliminating the synthetic compound bisphenol-A (BPA) from its cans.

BPA is a major culprit, found in items like plastic water bottles, food packaging and paper receipts, but Rasanayagam believes things are moving in the right direction. “BPA has become sort of the poster child,” she said. “Nobody knew what it was five or six years ago. Now everybody knows.”

And while legislation—especially at the federal level—can be painfully slow, Rasanayagam says Breast Cancer Fund has been quite effective in steering businesses to reexamine their practices.

“It’s a real example of people-power,” she said, “because businesses can make changes rather quickly.”

More needs to be done, of course, and Parsons is working toward that end. He points to pink ribbon campaigns that are ironically used by companies that are guilty of pumping their products full of toxins. Parsons also believes those campaigns have done little to get to the root of cancer.

“With pink ribbon campaigns, people feel like, ‘OK, I’ve done my part,’” he explained. “It concerns me that people don’t go beyond that to further educate themselves.”

Which is what Parsons has done. One of the things he’s discovered along the way—the fact that 1 in 8 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer—doesn’t sit well with him, which is what led him to Breast Cancer Fund and Climb Against the Odds.

In the meantime, Parsons is also getting an education on the ins and outs of climbing a mountain. While he considers himself a relatively active guy—before having children, Parsons played a few baseball games a week for a local travel team—he’s been training extensively for the past two months in Upper Bidwell Park, steadily increasing his pack weight and going on progressively longer hikes.

“This’ll be a new area for me to explore,” he said. “I’m appropriately intimidated, but not scared by any stretch.”

Parsons is looking to raise $6,000 for his climb this month, gathering donations and sponsors along the way. The last climb, in 2012, raised more than $400,000 for the group, which continues to be a force in making change, both in how companies do business and through legislative action. And Parsons feels a deep commitment to the Breast Cancer Fund.

“They are a unique and intimate group,” he said. “Next year I plan to be a porter for the Shasta climb so that I can guide a new team of climbers to their goals.”