The first thing Spencer Hayter plans to do when he reaches the top of Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa next month is whisper a prayer for his sister and mom, both of whom died of cancer.
Hayter, 26, is making the 19,341-foot climb up Africa's tallest peak as part of a fundraising effort for the RadiatingHope foundation, an all-volunteer organization whose mission is to improve cancer care, specifically radiation oncology care, around the globe.
Hayter is paying for his airfare, lodging and food for the trip out of his own pocket and with help from family, but he also wants to raise $8,000 toward building a planned cancer center in Tanzania.
More people die of cancer in Africa than malaria and AIDS combined, according to the RadiatingHope website.
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Hayter was more than happy to help with the cause.
"I'm typically in good shape anyway, but I've been training for the climb with a friend," Hayter told the Herald in a phone interview from Hawaii. "I also surf every day so I'll be in tip-top shape."
Hayter, a 6-foot-3 senior at Brigham Young University-Hawaii, might exude the usual fearlessness of youth when it comes to the potential dangers of climbing mountains, but confesses it's when he gets to the top that he might waver a bit.
"I'm really not worried about the dangers of the climb itself," he said. "We all have dreams and I'm going to see one of mine come true. But I think I'll be a little emotional when we get to the top because I'll be thinking about my sister Lisa and my mom."
Hayter grew up in Benton City and graduated from Kiona-Benton City High School in 2006. He is the youngest of nine children born to Harry and Patricia Hayter, and lost his mother to cancer when he was 13. Then his oldest sister Lisa died last year at the age of 43.
"I grew up with more than just a mom and dad," he said of his siblings. "I had a lot of extra babysitters, advice givers, stylists and sports coaches."
But it was Lisa who shaped him into the man he is today, Hayter added.
"She was always there for me," he said. "I went from diapers to driver's license with Lisa always by my side. And when we lost our mother to cancer in 2001, Lisa stepped in to fill a vacancy."
When Lisa was diagnosed with cancer two years ago, the family rallied around her and it looked like she might survive the dreaded disease, Hayter said. But it returned with a vengeance. He spent the last few months of his sister's life taking care of her, just like she took care of him.
Hayter learned about the Kilimanjaro mountain climb through his sister's oncologist, Dr. Brandon Fisher of Utah, who is also the board president for RadiationHope.
"I made the decision to climb Kilimanjaro because I wanted to raise awareness of the terrible struggle with cancer that is everywhere in this world," Hayter said. "RadiationHope was founded by mountain-climbing radiation oncologists who want to help cancer patients around the world. And I want to help any way I can because I've see the devastation cancer causes."
So on March 14 he'll get on a plane and head for Africa. The climb begins the morning of March 16. It will take about six days to reach the top of Kilimanjaro, which is the largest free-standing mountain in the world.
The team of climbers will leave prayer flags in the snow. at the summit. The flags are loosely sewn so that the threads will easily be torn loose by the fierce mountain winds. Each thread that finds its freedom is a prayer for people who fought a battle with cancer and lost and for those still fighting for their lives, Hayter said.
Anyone who would like to donate to Hayter's cause can do so online at http://www.crowdrise.com/HelpKiliCancer/fundraiser/spencerhayter. You can also follow him on Twitter at #lovelisa or #helpkilicancer.
The Club 24 fitness gyms in the Tri-Cities and Hermiston will donate $10 toward Hayter's fundraising goal for every new member who signs up from Feb. 15 to March 1.
Hayter also produced a video on his website where he sings the song, Falling Slowly, by Glen Hansard.
"My sister liked his music a lot," Hayter said. "I think I might be humming that tune in my head when we get to the summit."
-- Dori O'Neal: 582-1514; email@example.com; Twitter: @dorioneal