KEENE VALLEY - When overcoming a mountainous obstacle, one woman has found the only way to keep moving forward is by tackling another - especially if that obstacle is a mountain.
Canton resident Nancy LaBaff has been hiking since 2003, when she overcame her two-year-long battle with thyroid cancer. She's taken on several mountains since receiving her clean bill of health, and most recently brought along a group of people that included some North Country residents.
"When I got into hiking, I started meeting people and some of them had stories of either their husband, their wife, their sister or whoever that has either survived or lost their battle with cancer," said LaBaff.
Through the people she met on hikes in the Adirondack Mountains and through Adirondack High Peak Forums, an on-line discussion board for hikers, LaBaff was motivated to organize a hike of Armstrong Mountain for people who were either cancer survivors or somehow else affected by the life-threatening disease.
"We all know the pain that cancer can cause. Cancer affects everybody," LaBaff said of her reason for organizing the hike. "These people and myself included have had people they love that have been afflicted or who have died from cancer."
The hike gave people like Jean Ryan of Peru the opportunity to share stories of how cancer has affected their lives. Ryan lost a sister to cancer and said she has several friends and family members who are cancer survivors.
"I was motivated to do [the hike] in memory of family members and certainly in support of Nancy and other friends who are cancer survivors," said Ryan, who has hiked with LaBaff on other occasions.
The hike, said Ryan, was about more than just exercise. It was about camaraderie.
"It was wonderful, even though the weather was not ideal," she said. "We were going and determined to get to the top. We didn't have much of a view, but we had the support of one another."
"It was just a great hike," she added.
Colleen Kaulfuss of Saranac, who also went on the hike, agreed. Cancer has also been a part of Kaulfuss' life, not affecting her, but the lives of many members of her family.
"I was only about 11 when my father was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer," said Kaulfuss. "But, he's a survivor."
Kaulfuss' sister was also diagnosed and has survived malignant melanoma, though has lost grandparents to cancer over the years. The walk was a way for her to reflect on how cancer has affected her and the ones she loves, she said.
"It was just a fun day with friends and a chance to get out and remember people who have survived and also people who are still struggling with cancer," said Kaulfuss, who has also hiked with LaBaff in the past.
The specially-themed hike is something LaBaff hopes won't be a one-time thing, she said. And, she's not alone.
"Now, they want to do it annually and actually raise some money for cancer awareness," said LaBaff. "There's even more people who want to be a part of it next year."
"We'd love to have more people involved," said Kaulfuss.
Those interested in joining next year's hike are encouraged to contact LaBaff at 315-379-9885, or Ryan at 643-9386.