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Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Ain’t No Mountain High Enough for Bellevue Cancer Survivor

Patrick Shryock, an employee of DHL, prepares to trek to Mount Everest base camp in April. (photo: P. L. Rogers)   
By Robin Gee, City Council Beat Editor

About four years ago Patrick Shryock’s family thought they were saying goodbye to him. They sat at his bedside where he’d been in a medically induced coma for 12 days. He had picked up a life-threatening infection while being treated for acute myeloid leukemia, and things looked bleak.

Fortunately, doctors found a way to stop the infection and to treat his cancer, but Shryock faced another huge challenge. The diagnosis had been a shock and the treatment was rough, but it was the struggle to recover his strength and stamina afterward that daunted him. You could say he had a mountain to climb to get back to his life.

"One of my physical therapy appointments, I was just sitting on a chair and was supposed to stand using a walker. I could barely do it. I was happy to be alive, but reality set in that I was so dependent on my wife and the nurses. It was not a pleasant feeling. I had just turned 37."

Yet, today he is preparing to climb another mountain, and this time he is eager for the challenge. He will join 13 other people from around the world to make the trek to the Mount Everest base camp this spring.

A mountain to climb

DHL Express, his employer, is an international courier and mail service. Many people recognize the company by its yellow trucks – and it’s use of the popular song “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” in its commercial campaigns. The company celebrates its 50th anniversary this year, and staff decided to mark the occasion in a big way by gathering a special group of employees to climb Mount Everest.

Organizers at the company invited employees who would like to make the trek to share their own ain’t-no-mountain-high-enough moments — significant challenges they had overcome in their lives. Of the more than 100,000 DHL workers in 220 countries, 1,700 sent in personal essays about their achievements. The group was narrowed to 900, then 24 and finally to 14 applicants who would go on the trek.

Participants are raising money through the event to support the work of Direct Relief, a nonprofit, nondenominational emergency preparedness and response organization that operates in 90 countries and in every state. The organization recently helped bring medical supplies and aid to victims of hurricanes in the Gulf and care kits to first responders battling the Camp Fire in California.

After his initial recovery, Shryock began working to rebuild his strength and his health, and to challenge himself to do things he never thought he could do. "It was a traumatic experience to be so close to death. I got a second opportunity at life, and I wanted to see the world...I took on the job of physically challenging myself. I pushed myself to work hard, do my physical therapy, get back to myself," he said.

Challenging himself

"It was my own personal Mount Everest to learn to walk again. I would walk farther each day, then started jogging and then light running. I ran my first 5K a year after leaving the hospital."

Since that time he has participated in several 5K and 10K events to raise money for cancer research and other causes. He has been involved with the American Cancer Society Rely for Life in Campbell County, a Walk for Life event for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society and the CancerFree KIDS Toyota 10K last year.

He says he’s had wonderful support along the way. "My brother started running and working out. That inspired me, motivated me and maybe gave me a little sibling rivalry. We’ve done two tough mudders together."

When he first heard of the Mount Everest trek through DHL, he said he ignored it. "I thought that was something more for professionals to attempt only. But I got the info and the challenge seemed like it might be within the scope of what I can do, within the realm of possibility."

He had encouragement from another survivor, Charlie Fry, who owns Fry’s ATA Taekwondo USA Center in Newport. Shryock practices kickboxing at Fry’s center. "He’s a great motivator and pushes me when I need it."

 The trek to base camp

His team members come from all over the world including North and South America, China, Australia, UAE, Bahrain, UK, Ireland, Poland, Lithuania, South Africa, Nigeria and other places. They have been meeting online to share stories and discuss the trip.

The group will arrive in Kathmandu in Nepal on April 2. From there they will fly to the little village of Lukla in the Himalayas before beginning their hike to the base camp. The camp stands 5,300 meters, about 17,400 feet, above sea level. Altitude sickness is a major concern. It will take the hikers 12 days to reach the camp, because they will stop to rest and get used to the elevation.

"We will spend two days hiking, four or five hours a day, then we will rest for a day to acclimate...It’s essential," explained Shryock.

Once at the camp, he plans to take a lot of pictures including some wearing a tshirt from Fry’s martial arts school, another tshirt with his friend’s brewery logo on it and a large group shot with everyone decked out in Direct Relief gear.

"It’ll be a fun time taking pictures and celebrating. Direct Relief is such a great charity. And the community support means a lot to me. For me, it’s a new approach to life, to go out and experience life when I was so close to losing mine," he said.

Making new memories

Shryock has a son who graduated from Newport Central Catholic a few years ago. He is now studying chemical engineering at the University of Dayton. He bought his dad gear for the trek this past Christmas.

"These were big things for me. If I had not survived I would have missed out on my son’s valedictorian speech...on a number of life moments. So many things I’ve experienced since my diagnosis I realize are things I would have missed out on."

He is not only present for these happy moments but is building a mountain of memories and experiences.

Shryock lives in Bellevue but has Fort Thomas connections. He is a former resident and his wife grew up in the city. He has raised more than $3,300 toward his goal of raising $5,300 for Direct Relief, one dollar for each meter of elevation at the base camp. To donate to his efforts, you can go to his DHL Everest Quest funding page.

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