Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper

The Spokesman-Review Newspaper The Spokesman-Review

Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
Partly Cloudy Day 24° Partly Cloudy
News >  Voices

Brain cancer survivor turns to mountain climbing to help recovery

Mike Aufderhar stood below a 14,048-foot peak in Colorado and decided to take it on in his recovery from brain cancer.

On Sept. 7, he and his wife, Brenda, were joined by friends for a 10-hour trek to the top of Handies Peak in southwest Colorado and back.

While the climb was not technical, it still required a level of fitness and determination that any 14,000-foot mountain demands, the couple said.

“I know I needed something to motivate me to keep moving and improve,” Mike Aufderhar said.

A minister, Aufderhar said he’s turning to God for comfort. “I have to lean on that trust in him,” he said.

“I thank the Lord every day for that day,” he said.

Aufderhar is celebrating his 56th birthday on Thursday. The couple have two adult children and a granddaughter.

The first sign of trouble came in 2013 when Mike Aufderhar had a seizure, which led to a diagnosis of glioblastoma multiforme – a particularly difficult form of cancer known by the acronym GBM.

“It just, boom, showed up,” he said.

He had the tumor removed that May in Seattle and was told by his doctor to go home and get his affairs in order – like other patients with GBM, he might live only six months.

His recovery from surgery was complicated by a serious infection of skull bone near the surgery site.

Aufderhar underwent radiation and chemotherapy in July 2013, which led to another complication – blood clots.

By the time doctors were finished with intensive treatment, Aufderhar had undergone five surgeries.

He wore a helmet during the period to protect his brain.

The cancer and surgery initially robbed him of his ability to form words and articulate them, although much of that ability has returned.

Aufderhar, an Adventist, had recently moved to Spokane to take a job as a family life pastor. The cancer forced him to step aside, but he is still getting support from church members.

A physical therapist helped design a daily exercise for strengthening.

Having been a mountain climber in his younger years, he turned to Mount Spokane to rebuild his muscles.

He has climbed up and down Mount Spokane more than 20 times so far.

His wife and sister-in-law helped design a vegetarian nutrition program to give him nutrients for healing.

A year ago, the couple visited friends with a cabin at about 8,000 feet in elevation near Handies Peak.

Looking up at the majestic spires of the San Juan Mountains of the southern Colorado Rockies, Aufderhar said he was inspired to make his goal the top of Handies Peak.

After training for a year, both Mike and Brenda Aufderhar made it to the top.

A week later, Brenda Aufderhar said she could still feel her sore muscles.

“It was very strenuous,” said Mike Aufderhar about the elevation gain of 4,567 feet.

Back in Spokane, the Aufderhars are continuing work on recovery with specialists and friends.

“To survive under a diagnosis like this, you have to have a team,” said Brenda Aufderhar, a former nurse and now a family counselor.

Mike Aufderhar said he finds cancer survivor success stories to be inspiring and comforting.

He recommended the website virtualtrials.com.

“It’s good to read about survivor stories.” The positive stories helped, he said.

“The climb was a metaphor for me,” Brenda Aufderhar said. “We want to encourage other people to set goals … Focus on hope.”

The Spokesman-Review Newspaper

Local journalism is essential.

Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.

Active Person

Subscribe to the Coronavirus newsletter

Get the day’s latest Coronavirus news delivered to your inbox by subscribing to our newsletter.