About Us - Sunnybrook Foundation

Kumar Punithavel, Climbing Over Cancer

February 4, 2014

Kumar Punithavel has gone to extreme lengths - or rather heights - to raise funds for the innovative care and research at Sunnybrook's Louise Temerty Breast Cancer Centre, the largest and most advanced in Canada.

In 2011, he skydived for the first time in his life, and in 2013 he hiked Mount Kilimanjaro, the tallest peak in Africa. He has raised an impressive $42,000 for Sunnybrook through proceeds from both events.

Kumar's quest to hike Mount Kilimanjaro began ominously. His checked baggage arrived in Tanzania days after he did, and the day before he set out on the climb he received a discouraging horoscope.

"You may have to tell someone that you cannot deliver on what you promised. Chances are they won't mind in the slightest. It seems like they didn't want you to do it," the horoscope read.

"I thought, 'OK, now what should I do? Should I give up?'" recalls Kumar, a 68-year-old Scarborough resident.

But in this case giving up wasn't really an option, and chances were that people would be disappointed if he didn't deliver.

Kumar was also hiking for his dear wife, Chandra, who had succumbed to cancer in 2007, two years after diagnosis. Despite surgery, chemotherapy and radiation, the aggressive breast cancer spread to Chandra's brain. Kumar's elder sister, Nageswary, who lived in New Zealand, had also lost her life to breast cancer.

Kumar's aim was to "climb over cancer" by raising funds to support the discovery of new and better breast cancer treatments. It was also to show his gratitude for the skilled care that Chandra, an early childhood educator, received at Sunnybrook. 

While Kumar found most of the hike fairly easy, the last day of climbing was extremely challenging. At risk for altitude sickness, he nearly turned back. But the experience and steady encouragement of Kumar's lead guide convinced him to push on.

Words, Kumar says, cannot describe the sense of accomplishment after reaching the summit. Standing at the top, he thought about the loved ones he had lost, but also about how fortunate he is to have his health.

Life is a journey. Despite the challenges, we must keep striving forward," he says.

Kumar Punithavel