Nearly five years after her initial diagnosis, Lila Javan thought her cancer was long gone. She had everything but her plane ticket booked for a dream climb up Mt. Kilimanjaro when results from a routine blood draw put plans of scaling Africa’s highest peak on hold.
“Immediately my heart sank because I knew that the cancer was back,” Lila says. “I decided, ‘OK, my trip is not canceled. It’s just merely postponed.’”
Lila has literally been climbing back ever since, celebrating another milestone in her recovery as the UCLA Health Laker for a Day on Oct. 25, when she watched the Lakers pull off a 102-99 overtime win over the Washington Wizards at Staples Center.
Lila, who was first diagnosed with a blood cancer in 2010, refocused on her goal when a friend gave her a poster that showed Mt. Kilimanjaro through the frame of a window. Lila hung the image in her hospital room, grabbing every visitor’s attention.
Dr. Sarah Larson, her oncologist at UCLA, was so inspired by Lila’s strength and resilience during treatment that she joined Lila’s group of friends on the journey up Kilimanjaro in January 2017. Lila, a cinematographer, documented their ascent.
“When Lila relapsed and I would go into her hospital room, seeing those pictures of Kilimanjaro and it looking so breathtaking, but then now being here, I think that’s part of why it feels surreal,” Dr. Larson told the camera crew atop the mountain. “Just to see where we are compared to May of 2014, again, it just doesn’t feel real.”
Lila says climbing Kilimanjaro exceeded her expectations and drew parallels with her cancer journey.
“If you go too quickly, you’re going to have trouble climitazing and you’re going to have to go down the mountain,” she says. “And that really is an analogy to cancer and cancer recovery. You can’t push yourself beyond your daily limit, but if you keep putting one step in front of the other and just having the faith that that will get you there, you’ll be at 19,341 feet before you know it.”
Dr. Larson also accompanied Lila during her Laker for a Day experience. Lila received a behind-the-scenes look of the game and even sat a few seats away from former soccer star David Beckham, which had her feeling star struck.
“I’m so proud to be a Laker for a Day,” Lila says, “and maybe help inspire people to find mountains that they can climb.”
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