Summiting for survivors

Six months ago, Lori Fallace had never spent a night in a tent.

In June, with subtemperature gear and ice pick in hand, the Irvine schoolteacher will scale the 14,179 feet to Mt. Shasta's peak in a show of perseverance and support for all those who have been affected by breast cancer.

"What I want to achieve is to empower people," Fallace said. "There are steps you can take to decrease your risk."

Fallace, Irvine Unified School District 2012 middle school teacher of the year, has taught science and health classes for years. Before she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2008, Fallace thought that she knew all there was to taking care of her body.

Now she knows a whole lot more.

Since beating the cancer after six months of chemotherapy, Fallace has become a voice for the Breast Cancer Fund, a national nonprofit that advocates for the prevention of breast cancer through increasing education and lowering risk factors.

The organization publishes an annual report, State of the Evidence, which links exposure to environmental chemicals and radiation to breast cancer.

Fallace is preparing for her trip with 40 other climbers through the nonprofit.

"There is an element of danger, but breast cancer is dangerous," she said.

The climbers, all breast cancer survivors or affected by the disease, will train before leaving base camp and will be accompanied by an experienced professional, said Laura Turnbull, Breast Cancer Fund spokeswoman and event coordinator.

"They will meet up to 40 other people in the same boat and have 40 other friends for a lifetime after this," she said. "Instead of just wearing a pink ribbon and being aware, they are taking action."

Past climbs have included Mt. Aconcagua, Mt. McKinley, Mt Fuji and Mt. Rainier.

"It's just symbolic to not giving into the disease and the courage it takes to face cancer on a daily basis," Turnbull said of the annual trip.

To prepare, Fallace has been hiking in local mountains, including San Jacinto Peak in Riverside County. That summit, at 10,834 feet, is the highest she has scaled to date.

The exertion for it was both physical and emotional.

"As I was nearing the top, I was smelling the scent of pine needles," Fallace said. "And it made me think of Christmas and all the women who have lost their Christmases to this dreaded disease. I told myself, 'Push, Lori, push. You can do it for all those women.'"

Fallace's Mt. Shasta climb will include "prayer flags," which she will fly at the summit to those who did not survive their fight with cancer. People can request that Fallace carry a flag and donate to her trip at

"I'm sure that I'm going to cry," Fallace said. "It's going to be very emotional."

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