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Climbing Kilimanjaro for breast cancer awareness

​​​“You are never too old or too unfit to do something exciting – I believe life isn’t meant to be boring!” This statement sums up what Amanda Louw (52), a lecturer in radiography and mammography at the University of Johannesburg, is all about. Amanda is going to climb Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania in October this year to raise awareness and funds for breast cancer treatment. Her work, training future mammographers at the Department of Radiography at the University of Johannesburg (UJ) since 2008, has put her in touch with the Breast Health Foundation (BHF). This foundation is a Section 21 not-for-profit company that was established in April 2002 with the goals of educating the public regarding breast health issues and raising funds to finance educational projects.​

Amanda and 14 other ladies with different links to BHF are now part of the foundation’s latest campaign – Pink Peaks. They will climb the highest mountain in Africa to show that with the correct preparation, mental toughness and the will to go on, any mountain can be conquered. Kilimanjaro was chosen because a challenge was needed that could (partly) be compared to the difficulties that someone faces when he/she is diagnosed with breast cancer.


“I first heard about Pink Peaks in February this year. I always invite the ladies from Bosom Buddies (a project of BHF) to come and speak to my students and give a human face to mammography. I overheard one of the ladies, Rebecca Musi, saying that she had to get fit this year to climb Kilimanjaro. This is something I have always wanted to do and I felt someone from mammography had to be present on this climb. I wrote a motivation letter and luckily I became part of Pink Peaks!”

The ladies will start climbing on 8 October and they plan to summit on the 15th. “I am very excited as I have never travelled in Africa before. In fact, I have only been out of the country once! I think that is also the biggest challenge for me – the strangeness of a foreign country and a big mountain. And the temperature fluctuations, we are starting in a tropical rainforest with average temperatures of 40 °C and ending on a mountain peak at -30 °C!”

Amanda is full of praise for the support she has received from UJ. “I spoke to prof. Wim Hollander at UJ Sport and Movement Sciences and he was very enthusiasic about helping with my physical preparation for the climb. He arranged for an assessment and subsequent sessions with a coach, Leandri de Beer, at the High Performance Center of UJ gymnasium on the Aucklandpark Campus to get me superfit for the challenge. I also follow my usual routine of running, mountain biking and sessions with my personal trainer, Khumo, at a private gym in Melville.”


She recently took part in the mountain bike race at the Knysna Oyster Festival and she regularly jogs at the UJ Stadium close to her home in Westdene.

UJ has also helped Amanda’s cause financially. “Prof Andre Swart, executive Dean of the Faculty of Health Sciences, approved a substantial donation towards the cause with the understanding that the UJ logo must reach the summit. This is obviously an additional reason why I have to succeed.” The 2013 mammography students at UJ has also donated more than R2 000.

Amanda hopes to raise R100 000, specifically for the BHF’s mobile units. To date she has raised R37 000. “Most people with access to the media take it for granted that everyone knows about the danger of breast cancer and the importance of breast self examinations and getting early treatment. However, the reality is that a lot of people are uninformed and do not have access to information. BHF uses their mobile units (there are currently four but they hope to have 20 within the next five years) to provide services to people in rural areas. Two of these units are active in Gauteng, one in Kwa-Zulu Natal and one in the Western Cape. Together, these units have provided services to more than 230 000 people in 2012 (keep in mind that breast cancer is not limited to women only – 1% of the cancers are diagnosed in men).”

UJ has also helped Amanda prepare herself mentally for the challenge of Kilimanjaro. Something that she is especially nervous about is the snow and cold temperatures on the mountain. “Dr Leon van Niekerk from the Department of Psycology is working with me to improve my mental toughness through strategies such as chunking, visualisation, goal setting and deep relaxation. In terms of spiritual preparation, I spend much time engaging with the reasons why I am taking up the challenge.”

She says that she has five personal reasons for her climb and she plans to collect five little stones on the summit as a symbol of reaching her goals. “Firstly, I’m doing it for BHF, to raise awareness and funds for the wonderful work they do. I have been lecturing radiography for 20 years and I am doing it for all my students – past, present and future – to show them that you can do anything you set your mind to. I could not do this on my own and therefore I’m also climbing for my colleagues at UJ’s dynamic Radiology department and my friends who think that their chance has passed them by. I want to prove to them that you are never too old, even someone who is 50+ can successfully take up a new challenge.

“I was a single mother for 18 years and I want to show my daughter Ilonka, who turns 21 this year, that with determination nothing is impossible. And lastly, I have to do it for myself. With my daughter all grown up I now have more time to do things I have always dreamed of. Now at last I have the time and energy to challenge myself with new adventures. I am also dreaming of climbing the Great Wall of China, walking Santiago de Compostela in Spain and exploring Peru.”

She has already started breaking in her new waterproof hiking boots and she plans to take a few special things with her on the climb. “I am going to have a flag or banner made which my students, colleagues and friends can sign and which I can wear as a scarf during my trek up the mountain. I plan to wear my daughter’s beanie and maybe I will also get some other items from loved ones to inspire me.”

Amanda says she can’t wait to stand on Africa’s crown, Uhuru Peak (5 895m above sea level). “The whole process is going to be a challenge – climbing with people I don’t know that well, eating strange food, being dirty and of course the cold – but it will all be worth it when I’m standing on top of the mountain. And after the climb we are going to the white, warm beaches of Zanzibar for a few days which is going to be fabulous!”

​SIDEBAR: A few interesting facts provided by Amanda Louw:​​​


  • 1% of all breast cancers are diagnosed in men.
  • General statistic show that one in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer during her life time. However, some say that one in 26 women will be diagnosed but this can be due to the fact that women in poorer, rural areas may not have access to medical facilities and thus they may not be diagnosed and treated.
  • It is important that all women of 40+ should get regular mammograms. Young women must do breast self examination when they reach puberty. This examination must bedone on the same day each month. This way abnormalities can be detected soon and treatment can be minimally invasive.
  • Since 2008 220 mammographers have qualified at UJ.
  • Radiography is classified as a scarce skill by the Department of Health and the Department of Labour (mammography falls under radiography, but it is even more specialized). There is a constant demand for more mammographers and it is a good career choice for women. However, women who want to qualify as mammographers must be professional, have empathy and be a good communicator because mammography is such an intimate and often emotional procedure.

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