North Van cancer survivor celebrates clean bill of health by taking on Seek the Peak

A North Vancouver woman is celebrating being cancer-free by taking on a whole new kind of physical challenge.

Melissa Offner, who moved to the North Shore two and a half years ago, was diagnosed with a rare form of melanoma a few days after her birthday in June 2018. After a year spent living with the uncertainty and anxiety that a cancer diagnosis can bring, Offner has been declared cancer free. An avid lover of nature and the outdoors, she is planning to celebrate her newfound health and raise awareness for a cause she now knows firsthand by taking part in the challenging Seek the Peak event this Sunday.

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“It was incredibly trying. I felt extremely weak, I felt very vulnerable,” Offner tells the North Shore News, explaining what came next after the discovery of an irregular mole on her right wrist suddenly turned her whole life upside down. “I found out a week later that I had skin cancer, which was quite the shock having just turned 34, being someone that’s spent quite a bit of my life outdoors.”

Offner and her doctors acted quickly. She had surgery and doctors removed a “big chunk of my wrist” in order to make sure the cancer wouldn’t spread.

“Luckily from that surgery … they were able to remove my whole cancer,” says Offner. One year later, she’s been given the all clear, though she notes: “It’s never an all-clear, to be honest.”

For at least the next five years, Offner will undergo constant checkups to make sure she’s still melanoma- and cancer-free.

However, her spirits were buoyed enough to want to start celebrating and raising awareness for others following the good news she received during her recent one-year checkup.

“It’s really the one-year that’s usually the most crucial one out of the five years. It doesn’t mean that it’s not going to come back, but it means that at least the cells in your body are relatively healthy and are doing OK,’ she says.

Stretching from Ambleside Park in West Vancouver to the top of Grouse Mountain (or, the peak of Vancouver), the annual Seek the Peak event is billed as a 13-kilometre journey with a 1,400-metre climb, which raise money earmarked to support the lifesaving work of the BC Cancer Foundation.

“I had a really positive experience with BC Cancer,” says Offner, on her own medical journey. “I think it’s super important for many reasons. … When I found out about this event, and it had to do with trails and trail running in my own backyard, it just seemed like such a cool event.”

While Offner has always had an affinity for the outdoors, her love for it has really come into focus during the last trying year. “You start noticing things, you start becoming more aware of stuff,” she says, adding that the North Shore’s serene trails and incredible backwoods became even more important to her and she focused on her physical and mental health during the last many months. “I really turned more so than ever to trail running, to being outdoors.”

Taking on Seek the Peak is the culmination of Offner’s outdoor obsession.

“I couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate life than to hike up 1,400m along with other cancer survivors and supporters.”

To participate or learn more about this year’s Seek the Peak, visit seekthepeak.ca.

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