'The Thrill of a Lifetime'

Cheron (Messmer) Mayhall '64, with husband Bill, at the end of their hike in and out of the Grand Canyon in February 2012.

Alumna Cheron Mayhall '64 hikes the Grand Canyon at age 69, while battling her second round of breast cancer. "This was the most painful and difficult challenge I have ever chosen to undertake," she said. “But it served to lift my spirits upon completion, and that aura hasn’t faded yet.”

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Hiking the Grand Canyon has long been on the “bucket list” for Bill and Cheron (Messmer) Mayhall ‘64.

But when the couple, 68 and 69, respectively, made reservations more than a year ago for their February 2012 trip, they had no idea that Cheron would make the hike while battling her second bout of breast cancer.

“Of course, we had to be realistic about our planning,” she said.

“But I never succumbed to the idea of not trying to prepare for, then attempt, the canyon fete.”

Cheron fought breast cancer for about five years, starting in 2003, but she believed she was healthy when she and Bill were planning their Canyon adventure.

They both lead active lifestyles, walking half-marathons together about three times a year. When they started training for their Grand Canyon trip, Cheron said she was upset with herself for running out of energy on a mountain training hike.

About a week later, she learned the cancer was back.

“I forgave myself after learning I had tumors pressing against my bronchi,” she said.

After the initial diagnosis, Cheron underwent a mastectomy but found out the next week that the tumors had metastasized. She has undergone chemotherapy treatments since December.

But she and Bill kept training.

“A month prior to the Grand Canyon trip, Bill called to ask how a person might be rescued if they got ‘stuck’ and couldn’t hike out,” she said. “He was told that’s called a ‘haul out,’ and the cost is $850 to ride a donkey back to the top.

“That made me pretty determined to hike the whole distance.”

The Mayhalls, along with a long-time friend, Richard, set out on their journey Feb. 21. Cheron had been to both the north and south rims of the Grand Canyon before, but, she said, she “knew that was only scratching the surface of the adventure and beauty.”

After the first four hours of steep trails and switchbacks, she began to have sore knees, and her companions divided up her pack to take some of the extra weight. The friend, Richard, lent her his walking poles. She was able to finish out the 8-hour day, including snow and ice, and arrive at Phantom Ranch on the Colorado River, where they had reservations in the dorms.

Though she had made the first leg of the journey, she said she knew she needed rest. She spent the next day icing and elevating her knees while the men took a day hike, and the group was able to rent a cabin to rest an extra night.

Day 3 was a 10-mile hike out of the canyon. It took 10 hours, but the group made it.

After the trip, it took two weeks for Cheron to recover, but she is back to walking and hiking, preparing for the 60-mile Susan G. Komen 3-Day in Seattle in September.

She’s also back to the chemotherapy treatments, which she hopes to complete by the end of May.

The trip, she said, was hard, but worth it. Along the way, they saw mule trains, deer, foxes, birds and even a ringtail cat.

It was, she said, an “unusual outdoor opportunity that really is the thrill of a lifetime.”

“I have told people this was the most painful and difficult challenge I have ever chosen to undertake,” she said.

“But it served to lift my spirits upon completion, and that aura hasn’t faded yet.”

Dr. Cheron Mayhall is a retired counselor who spent years specializing in support for families raising children with disabilities and was the founder of the Coalition in Oregon for Parent Education (COPE). She also is the author of two memoirs, “The Bridge is Love: A Journey Through Grief to Joy After the Death of a Child” and “Marshalling Support to Survive Breast Cancer: Self-talk, Girl-talk, Doctor-talk.” After thee decades in the Pacific Northwest, she and her husband now live in Tuscon, Ariz. She currently is helping plan her 50th reunion at Pacific University in 2014.