“Almost Touching Heaven”

Everyone has a story to tell. Some people’s stories are powerful enough to impact lives. I heard one such story last Sunday.

There are words we all dread. Heart attack. Stroke. And the most feared of all: cancer.

Dan Arnett of Hartstown knows this word intimately. And he’s not afraid of it.

Dan was diagnosed with stage 4 Hodgkin’s lymphoma in April 2013. He had a football-sized tumor (18 cm.) directly behind his breastbone. He also had five centimeters of fluid around his heart. He officially went into remission in August 2013. He endured six months of chemotherapy, then had radiation treatments every day in December 2013.

Before beginning chemotherapy, Dan bought a pair of pajama pants to wear under his hospital gown. The only pair he could find had the Superman shield on them.

He embraced the theme.

Friends sponsored Dan in a 5K in Greenville to benefit Relay for Life. He promised his sponsors he would wear a costume, and that each lap it would become sillier. He crossed the finish line wearing a Superman costume complete with a red cape, and a hot pink wig.

Dan’s friend and former classmate at Westminster College, Sean Swarner, founded CancerClimbers Association. Swarner is a cancer survivor who received two terminal cancer diagnoses. Swarner is the first cancer survivor to climb the peak of Mount Everest, and he did it with one lung.

Sean encouraged Dan to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro. Dan wasn’t sure about it. Then he saw something he’d never noticed before.

The former owners of his house painted a mural of the Serengeti on one wall. Giraffes, an elephant, and a zebra are in the foreground. But behind the animals on the horizon is – guess what? Mount Kilimanjaro. He took this as a sign.

CancerClimbers accepted Dan’s application. To condition himself, he and his daughter, Mazie, did a Couch to 5K, a nine-week running program, this past spring. He also did lots of bike riding and hiked in Cook Forest State Park. -Next page

Mount Kilimanjaro is in Tanzania, literally halfway around the world from the Atlantic community. Dan traveled through the Serengeti and saw lions, hippos, giraffes, water buffalo, warthogs, elephants, and zebras on his way to Mount Kilimanjaro. His nephews, Nathan and Jared Downing, traveled with him.

Dan began climbing Mount Kilimanjaro on July 19 and reached the highest summit, Uhuru Peak, on July 25. The mountain is 19,341 feet tall. How does it feel to stand atop a mountain summit? “It feels like you’re almost touching heaven,” he said.

Dan saw the sun rise from Uhuru Peak. He was high enough to see the actual curve of the planet. When Dan and his nephews reached the summit, a friend took a picture. All three climbers held quilt squares stitched with the Superman shield.

The hour walk down from Uhuru Peak was the best part of Dan’s trip because he got to encourage folks hiking up to the peak. He passed an 11-year-old boy and an 81-year-old woman. The boy made it to the top and he feels sure the woman did, too.

Dan said the mountain is much prettier to look at when you’ve “been there, done that. You’re no longer worried about whether you can make it.”

“I’m very, very blessed to have this experience,” he concluded. Philippians 4:6-7 have become Dan’s theme verses: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (NIV).

Dan wants to show through the way he’s living and through his adventures that a cancer diagnosis isn’t the end. It isn’t the worst thing that could ever happen. It is possible to have good stories to share after the diagnosis.

What’s the future got in store for Dan? Only God knows. But whatever comes, Dan is facing it with courage and hope.

Have a wonderful week. Blessings!