A mother-of-five with stage IV lung cancer and her daughter hiked up to the summit of the highest mountain in the Americas.
Isabella de la Houssaye, 55, was diagnosed in January 2018 – a shock given that she had never smoked, never drank and lived an incredibly active lifestyle.
Since then, she had been crossing several items off her bucket list including completing 50 marathons in 50 states and racing in the Ironman World Championships.
Now, she’s determined to go on one last adventure with each of her children, specifically to push them to their limits and teach them about ‘joy and suffering alike’.
In an exclusive interview with The New York Times, de la Houssaye and her 22-year-daughter, Bella Crane, detailed how they spent January hiking up to the top of Mount Aconcagua, the highest mountain in both the Southern and Western Hemispheres.
In January of this year, Isabella de la Houssaye, 55 – who has stage IV lung cancer – and her daughter Bella Crane, hiked up to the summit of Mount Aconcagua, the highest mountain not in the Himalayas. Pictured: de la Houssaye, left, and Crane, right, at the summit
De la Houssaye (left, and with her daughter, Bella, right) was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer in January 2018. It was a shock to the mother-of-five who never drank or smoke
De la Houssaye told The Times that she and her husband, David Crane, an energy industry investor, raised all their children to be outdoors enthusiasts like they are.
It’s how Cason, David, Bella, Oliver and Christopher – listed from oldest to youngest – achieved feats such as hiking the Pacific Crest Trail and rowing solo across the Atlantic Ocean.
According to PEOPLE, de la Houssaye first started experiencing symptoms, mainly chest pain, in fall 2017, but assumed the pain was from a running injury.
By the time she was examined in January 2018, she was told she had stage IV lung cancer
‘I had a good size tumor, seven centimeters, in my lungs. My entire sacrum [the pelvis] was cancer,’ de la Houssaye told the magazine. ‘I had six tumors in my brain, I had them in my sternum, I had them in my pelvis. It was a huge wake-up call.’
Lung cancer occurs when cells in the lungs begin to grow out of control and crowd out normal cells.
It is the leading cause of cancer death in the US for both men and women, claiming more lives that breast, colon, prostate and ovarian cancers combined.
The American Cancer Society estimates more than 228,000 cases will be diagnosed in 2019 and that more than 142,000 deaths will occur.
Symptoms don’t usually present themselves until the cancer is advanced and include a cough that doesn’t go away, coughing up blood, chest pain and bone pain.
According to the American Cancer Society, the five-year survival rate for stage IV lung cancer is five percent.
The mother-of-five underwent chemotherapy to shrink the tumors and relieve some of her pain, and credits her ‘clean living’ lifestyle for her long survival. Pictured: de la Houssaye, left, with her son, Cason
Since being diagnosed, de la Houssaye (left and right) has achieved several feats including completing 50 marathons in 50 states and racing in the Ironman World Championships. She decided that she wanted to have one last adventure with each of her children
She underwent chemotherapy to shrink the tumors and relieve some of her pain, and credits her ‘clean living’ lifestyle for her long survival.
De la Houssaye told The Times that as she got back some strength, she wanted to experience at least one final adventure with each of her children, who range between ages 16 and 25.
She and Oliver hiked more than 500 miles along the Camino de Santiago, a Catholic pilgrimage route in Spain, in April 2018.
In June 2018, she and Cason ran a marathon in Alaska. Then, in September, she and David competed in an Ironman Triathlon in South Korea.
Finally, in January of this year, de la Houssaye and Bella – along with two guides, another mother-daughter pair, and two Times staff members – set out to climb Aconcagua.
Climbing the mountain takes about two weeks and climbers do not need to use axes, pin and ropes.
However, temperatures can fall as low as -40F (-40C), requiring warm gear, and only about 30 to 40 percent of climbers ever reach the peak.
In addition, de la Houssaye’s cancer and treatments made it difficult to breathe in the thin air and she was weakened by rounds of chemotherapy.
‘I feel that I went from my parents’ house to my husband’s house to having kids, and just when I think I’m going to be free I get this diagnosis,’ she told The Times.
The climb to the summit of Mount Aconcagua takes about two weeks and requires battling temperatures as low as -40F. Pictured: de la Houssaye, right, with her husband, David Crane
Despite some struggles, de la Houssaye and Bella reach the peak, which is elevated at nearly 22,300 feet. Pictured: de la Houssaye competing in a race with two of her sons
There were several challenges up the mountain: de la Houssaye struggled to eat due to nausea, she was worried about falling because her bones had become brittle and she was more susceptible to the freezing temperatures.
At base camp, which rests around 14,000 feet, she decided she wouldn’t be climbing any more mountains.
‘I don’t think I can do this anymore,’ she said. ‘I’m going to take each day at a time, but have no illusion that I will get to the top.’
But before the groups left camp, everyone underwent a check-up and de la Houssaye’s lung function was declared to be ‘fine’, reported The Times.
During the final stretch, sometimes it was de la Houssaye pushing Bella and, other times, it was the other way around.
When they reached the top, the mother-daughter pair hugged as tears fell down de la Houssaye’s cheeks.
‘The mountains always have a way of making me cry,’ she told The Times.