Cancer survivor conquers Mount Kilimanjaro

In July, when Laura Hyde stepped onto the peak of Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania with her son Chris, the Avila Beach woman was overwhelmed with emotion.

“Who would have known seven years ago?” she said to him.

In July 2003, Hyde was in the throes of treatment for breast cancer.

Her hair had fallen out “in gobs.” After her last chemotherapy treatment, she spent five nauseated days in her pajamas.

And when she finally put on running shoes after the last week of radiation, she could walk only 100 feet before turning around, exhausted.

But Hyde, a self-described “goal-oriented” person and accomplished business owner, pressed on.

She slowly increased her workouts and by 2004 completed a six-day Boy Scout hike in Yosemite with her younger son, Geoff.

And on her birthday in 2009, she exclaimed at the dinner table that she wanted to climb Kilimanjaro — Africa’s highest peak — for her 60th birthday the next year.

“I just threw it out there,” she said. “Exercise is so important. As women, when life gets in the way, we tend to give it up. We give it up for kids, spouses — we give up on our own personal goals. ... At times you can’t do that.”

In the months before her hike, Hyde was faced with challenges that would have made it easy to forget about Kilimanjaro.

On Nov. 15, 2008, her Loma Linda home burned to the ground in the Freeway Complex Fire that struck her neighborhood while she and her husband were traveling to a Cal Poly recruiting weekend with their college-bound son, Geoff.

The family relocated to a rental in Anaheim Hills, where they spent hundreds of hours filling out insurance claims forms, until they discovered that their new home was in foreclosure.

So just four weeks before Hyde’s trip to Tanzania, the family decided to move to Avila Beach, having “fallen in love” with the Central Coast while attending Geoff’s football games at Cal Poly.

To prepare herself for the trek, Hyde donned a backpack twice a day and hiked a three-and-a-half-mile loop in the hills around her home in the San Luis Bay Estates.

On the final leg of her ascent up Kilimanjaro, which took eight days, Hyde felt grateful for the training when her group passed a crying woman on the trail suffering from aching feet.

Hyde and her oldest son, in a group with 15 other hikers and several guides, reached 19,341 feet by climbing through jungles and past glaciers in five different climate zones.

“I did this despite cancer,” said Hyde, whose disease remains in remission. “When we’re faced with health issues, it’s not the end. It can be the beginning.”