Just a few months ago, Corvallis High School senior Lizzie Arnold was so hammered by chemotherapy that there were times she could barely walk.
But today, the 17-year-old will wake up somewhere in the Three Sisters Wilderness and start the first full day of a nine-day backpacking trip — a journey that will culminate when she summits Broken Top.
She thinks the moment will be amazing.
“I’m probably going to feel like it’s the second biggest thing I’ve ever done,” she said. “The other is kicking cancer’s butt.”
Arnold and seven other teens who have been diagnosed with cancer will be backpacking as part of a trip organized by See You at the Summit, a Portland-based nonprofit that provides free medically supported wilderness adventures for kids who have battled or are battling cancer.
Arnold said she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in January. She wondered why she hadn’t started her period yet and went to her doctor, who found a 2-pound tumor in her ovaries.
She said the tumor and her ovaries were surgically removed on Valentine’s Day at the Randall Children’s Hospital in Portland. The first of three rounds of chemotherapy began two weeks later.
Arnold, who had weighed just 90 pounds before her diagnosis, lost 10 pounds during chemotherapy. During that time, she said, she was in so much pain that the best part of her life was when she could be asleep.
Arnold added that although she is a bit of an introvert, she was surprised to have so many people rally around her with support. Friends from the Corvallis High School cheerleading team and the school’s chess team visited her, and the chess team even organized an online fundraiser to help cover medical costs. She said school staff also supported her so she could continue to take some classes and not fall too far behind while struggling through treatment.
On May 9, Arnold was declared cancer-free.
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“Everything has been OK on follow-up visits,” she said.
Arnold was invited on the trip in late May, but was only cleared to begin preparing for the trip in earnest in mid-July.
Her training consisted of walking hilly neighborhoods in Corvallis going door-to-door to raise money for See You at the Summit, which provided her with boots and other gear for the trip. Although the trip is free for her, Arnold said she wanted to raise money for the organization so other kids could have the same chance to go on a backpacking trip.
In all, she raised more than $2,200 for the organization and she put in around 34 miles walking up and down Corvallis hills.
Monique Arnold, Lizzie’s mom, said she is very proud of her daughter: “I’m beyond words. Her strength gives me strength.”
Lizzie said Tuesday she was excited for the trip. In particular, she was looking forward to spending time with other kids who could understand what she went through with cancer.
“It helps to know I’m not the only one,” she said.
The trip will also be the longest time she’s ever been away from her parents. She said being able to do it is a sign of how far she’s come.
“It’s not the trip. It’s knowing you have the ability to do the trip,” she said.