Lisa Thompson Overcomes Cancer While “Finding Elevation”
Photo courtesy of Lisa Thompson
Lisa Thompson is a Mountaineer, cancer survivor, and sought-after speaker and coach. Lisa worked for 25 years as an engineer and in leadership roles at technology companies. In 2008, she began climbing and has summited most of the most challenging mountains in the world, including Mount Everest and K2. She’s completed the Seven Summits reaching the top of the highest peak of each of the seven continents. Through her company, Alpine Athletics, and other platforms, Lisa shares her message of strength and resilience with corporate and private groups worldwide. She is also the author of "Finding Elevation," which chronicles Lisa’s path from novice climber to world class mountain.
Here’s an excerpt from our interview with Lisa.
Passionistas: What’s the one thing you’re most passionate about?
Lisa: This has changed over the years. I’m sure that’s just the normal progression of a life. But right now I am most passionate about giving back to women in the communities that I love — communities in Nepal and in Pakistan. I really feel at home in the mountains and have spent a lot of time and have great memories there. And it’s important to me to give back to those communities, especially the women.
I recently started a nonprofit to support women in Nepal and specifically to support their
education. It was shocking to me to learn that something like 58% of women in Nepal over the
age of 15 have had zero education — none at all, which is just alarming on many levels. But in one regard, they’re really the center of a Nepalese family and community. And the fact that there’s been no formal education for so many of those women just felt like something that I wanted to impact in a positive way.
Passionistas: Do you think there are certain qualities that you, as a woman, bring to a climb
that’s different than the male energy of a climb?
Lisa: Generalizing, right, but I’m fortunate now that I get to coach mountaineers and I coach men and women. And I can see those nuances, even as I’m coaching them. Women are much more interested in like the mental side. Of taking on a challenge like a big mountain and making sure that they’re very well rounded in their preparations. They want to make sure that they’re understanding the route, that they know where the challenges will be and that mentally they have the tools to get through them.
And men, generally again, not always the case but often, they want to train and work hard and do all the runs and all the hikes and all the preparation climbs. And they don’t often sort of step back and say, there’s a whole other side of this, there’s a whole other facet to climbing big mountains.
Passionistas: Can you compare for us the fear that you faced being diagnosed with cancer
versus the fear you faced on a mountain like that — knowing how dangerous it is and if those are different and if you have the same or different tools to deal with both?
Lisa: They feel very different — like different kinds of fear. When I was diagnosed with cancer, I felt completely unprepared to deal with that scenario. It was not anything that I ever thought I would have to encounter or deal with in my life and I felt out of control. I felt like my body had turned against me initially. Before I had a team of people to support me, I felt alone and without a path or a guide to get me through this situation. And luckily that changed and I found
It felt much scarier to be diagnosed with cancer than the mountains. I feel like I understand what I can control and I have the skills to get myself through it. And I think, in the mountains, a little bit of fear is a good thing because it keeps you focused. It keeps me alert to what’s going on around me. If the weather’s changing, if the route is changing, if there’s someone climbing above me that doesn’t look super safe, that little bit of fear sharpens my awareness.
Passionistas: So what inspired you to write your book “Finding Elevation”?
Lisa: I had always wanted to write. I studied engineering in college. I felt like I was very far away from that as an adult. But as a kid, I had a desire to write. And in my twenties, I tried out different topics. None of them just sort of seemed to fit. And then when I was diagnosed with cancer, I really relied on journaling to get me through that and to be this outlet for everything that I was feeling. And after two years of journaling, I sort of realized that there were a lot of things that I had encountered that seemed to translate to other people.
That if I could share what I had learned the hard way with another woman, that maybe she would have an easier path than I did. And so it became really important for me to share. At the time I thought this will just be about cancer. Then I continued to climb and I continued to learn more about myself and what I’m capable of and how to overcome obstacles, how to find your voice.
Hear the full interview with Lisa.
Learn more about Lisa and get her book, “Finding Elevation” on her website.