Like most mountain climbers, Muhammad Ogun Gunawan wants to conquer the Everest in his lifetime. But unlike most mountain climbers, he is a cancer survivor. Even after the devastating diagnosis of nasopharyngeal cancer in fourth stage, as part of the Wanadri team (Association of Mountain and Jungle Explorers), Ogun continues to adhere by their mountaineering motto, “There are no high mountains, dense jungles, steep valleys, deep seas and skies that Wanadri cannot explore.”
A Mountaineer’s Dream
Ogun fell in love with the mountains while in his teens and he joined the Wanadri community in 1981. He has been on two expeditions to Mount Everest but both times his team failed to make it to the summit. In 1994, Ogun made the attempt with the International Mountaineering Corporate Team and in 1997, with the Indonesian Special Force Command. “In the 1994 Everest ascent, I only reached a height of 7,900 metres due to storms. None of us made it,” Ogun says. But the real disappointment came in the second expedition when they managed to reach 8,600 metres, with only 200 metres to go, but the dream failed again.”
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A Temporary Setback
In November 2015, Ogun started having throat and hearing problems, and soon was suffering from double vision as well. Diagnosis confirmed nasopharyngeal cancer in the fourth stage, which had begun to spread into his upper chest. Following 38 radiotherapy sessions and 11 chemotherapy sessions, the doctors managed to halt the cancer but could not completely destroy it. Despite a weight loss of 20 kgs and a highly weakened body, Ogun returned to mountain climbing and began chalking out a programme to climb Mount Everest. His fighting spirit has been captured by a fellow-climber, Zhibril, in the book Ogun, Cancer Survivor to Scale World’s Peak.
Ogun however continues to strive to reach the world’s highest summit, an achievement that would give meaning to his life as a mountaineer. “The cancer plaguing my body will be cured by being determined and maintaining high spirits instead of lamenting in sorrow,” he says. “My activity is for therapy and recovery, for my pursuit and religious devotion. I feel it is more of a spiritual journey.”