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Reaching the summit: a woman’s climb for life

Kristina Southard is a self-described tough cookie. During her world travels to remote areas, she’s had guns pointed in her face and was even inside a taxi that was almost overturned by rowdy crowds during a strike.

“I’m not somebody you can easily blow on and have fall over.”

But nothing could have prepared Southard, who now lives at the border of Phinney/Fremont/Ballard, for the life changing news she got in 2006 during an annual exam at the doctor.

“I actually had a huge lump on my neck that I had never even seen.”

While that lump ended up being nothing, it prompted a series of tests that helped doctors find something much more serious– myelodysplasia, also known as pre-leukemia, that required an immediate bone marrow transplant.

“I said are you honestly telling me that I have something terminal.. that conventional chemo modes won’t even work? It can’t be happening to me.”

Given only a few months to live without a transplant, Kristina immediately turned to her estranged sister who lived overseas. After putting their differences aside, her sister got tested and was an identical match. But just before the transplant, more devastating news came in.

“She had nutritional issues and they weren’t able to harvest enough stem cells from her to keep me alive. I seriously thought about buying a one way ticket down to the islands.”

But instead of giving up, Kristina and her doctors turned to the national bone marrow registry where they found a man who would not only save her life, but would later become a friend. Bruce Miller from Michigan was at first a faceless donor. But today, he keeps in touch with Kristina and even paid a visit to her Seattle home this summer.

“We don’t have a lot in common, but we have the most important thing in common. My life, his blood.”

Today, Kristina is in remission and just set her sights on a lofty goal. With members of Team Survivor Northwest, a group of women who’ve survived cancer, Kristina scaled Mount Adams this summer. But she wasn’t just climbing for herself, she was climbing for a woman named Bernadette Foubert.

“About five months after my transplant, I met Bernadette who was diagnosed with exactly the same condition as me. We became friends and I became her mentor to let her know she could get through this.”

As Bernadette’s condition grew worse, Kristina decided to climb Mount Adams for her friend. Five days before the climb, Bernadette passed away. Kristina took a picture of Bernadette with her to Mount Adams and put it on the back of her jacket when she reached the summit.

“All I could think about was how Bernadette should have been there with me. I cried my eyes out. But being up there, I also knew it was the end of one portion of my life and the beginning of another.”

Kristina wanted to share her story in hopes of inspiring other people going through the same thing.

“I want to live and I refuse to relinquish anything.”

Kristina Southard started a blog to document her journey before, during, and after her transplant. You can read it here.

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