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May 23, 2023

Uphill climb: Rock Valley’s Deaton, breast cancer survivor and dedicated therapist/advocate, set to scale Mount Kilimanjaro

Mount Kilimanjaro will not be Anne Deaton, PT, MPT, Oncology/Breast Cancer Rehabilitation Specialist and breast cancer survivor’s toughest uphill climb.

Not even close.

On June 17, the outgoing, upbeat and ever-dedicated Deaton, a Rock Valley Physical Therapy family member since 2009, will challenge the most famous dormant volcano in the world.

At 19,341-feet above sea level and approximately 16,100-feet above its plateau base, Mount Kilimanjaro is the highest volcano in the eastern hemisphere. There are 30,000-plus attempts to summit Mount Kilimanjaro each year, a tradition dating back to 1889. Approximately 25 percent of those attempts fail.

DO NOT expect Deaton to be part of the 25 percent.

A breast cancer survivor, Deaton is sharing the challenge with Above & Beyond Cancer, a Des Moines-based entity founded by radiation oncologist Dr. Richard Deming. 

Above & Beyond Cancer provides evidence-based, free programs for cancer survivors and the community that promote recovery and prevention. They include fitness, yoga, meditation, cycling, personalized plans, nutrition classes, urban pole walking, outdoor adventures, book club, and a cancer education series. 

“A&BC is an incredible organization that offers so many different ways for cancer patients and survivors to get involved with activities and engage with their communities,’’ Deaton said. “It provides a place for these individuals to find a connection with the world through exercise, support groups and transformational journeys.’’

Deaton, first hand, understands the challenge of bettering the lives of cancer patients.

In January of 2017, she was diagnosed with Stage 1 breast cancer. Over the course of the next three months, she worked her way through surgery and radiation treatments. In April of that year, Deaton was declared cancer free. The journey, however, was far from over for the Ankeny, Iowa-based therapist.

Next was learning how to live as a survivor and use her experience to benefit others.

“I was a young, healthy adult with no genetic markers or significant family history of breast cancer,’’ Deaton explained. “A phone call changed my life. The next few days and weeks became a blur of doctor visits, testing, and many questions.

“The next couple years were a challenging time as I dealt with depression and other side effects from being on aromatase inhibitors to minimize the recurrence of cancer,’’ added Deaton. “From the outside, many see everything has returned to normal, but the reality is normal will forever look different through the lens of those who have been through a cancer diagnosis.’’  

Her uphill health climb moved Deaton to become certified as an oncology physical therapist.

“I sought out the Physiology Oncology Rehabilitation Institute (PORI) in Colorado to do my training, because of their integrative approach to treatment,’’ Deaton shared. “This training would allow me to make an impact and collaborate with the physicians who treat patients every day.  My next step was forming a support group for cancer patients at any stage of disease in Ankeny and to provide a safe and supportive space for people to gather and talk about whatever concerns they may have or to be a resource for information.’’

Deaton says her battle with breast cancer creates an instant bond with her patients.

“There is an understanding I can connect with what they are going through on a personal level,’’ she said. “Even though I did not go through chemotherapy, they know I have a lot of experience working with this population and can share how others have navigated that part of treatment.  Because I am spending 40-to-60 minutes with my patient, there is a lot of time to connect and answer personal and emotional questions that come up. It is a safe space to have all the emotions that cancer can bring.’’

Deaton’s Mount Kilimanjaro challenge begins with a medical mission on June 16, sharing with cancer patients at the Kilimanjaro Christian Medical Center. Her climb begins at Machame Gate. A hope is to take handmade flags honoring those who have passed from cancer or are unable to make the trek and plant them once the summit is reached June 21.

Deaton’s training for the climb began in January (2023) and has been 5-to-6 days-per week, including stair climbing, incline training on a treadmill, running, walking and strength training twice weekly.

“We are building into 4-to-5 hours of trekking dirt trails with our day packs,’’ said Deaton, who did her undergraduate work at Iowa State University and completed her post graduate work at the University of Iowa. A standout high school gymnast, Deaton found running for fitness during her college days.

 “As a family we have always enjoyed hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park, the Tetons, Wyoming and the Black Hills,’’ added Deaton. “While I have never done a journey like this or to an elevation this extreme, I have always loved the adventure and the beauty of the mountains. As for nutrition, I’m just trying to eat a healthy diet and drink lots of water. As it gets closer, I will probably start planning more specific snacks to keep me fueled during the hikes and will learn how to curb the effects of altitude sickness.’’

Family and friend support has been crucial to Deaton tackling such a monumental task. She shares – with compassion and care – how her husband, Steve, sons, Zach and Josh, and her mother and sister, have been her rocks, encouraging her to stretch her wings and embrace opportunities. Deaton was quick to share how her Rock Valley family continues to be a phenomenal support system.

“Family and Rock Valley support has been incredible,’’ she said. “And lots of VERY close friends have been instrumental in my journey.’’

Deaton says one friend has been a tremendous turn-to along her winding path.

“Karen Peters is a two-time breast cancer survivor,’’ Deaton says of the Ankeny firefighter and paramedic. “We met back in 2008  when our kids were swimming competitively for the Y.  When I was diagnosed with breast cancer, she was my first call to gain support and information from someone who had traveled that road. She is an amazing, positive human who has helped so many people over the years with her story.  She researches extensively on her own and loves to share her knowledge with others. I am so glad we get to do this journey together.’’

Mount Kilimanjaro… Just another uphill climb for Anne Deaton, an inspiration to us all.

By: Johnny Marx, Storyteller