Dubai: When Gulf News first published her story about fighting cancer twice in September 2021, climbing Mount Kilimanjaro was a dream that Dubai resident Nadiera Senali Veedu wanted to chase.
In another tale of inspiration, the 38-year-old mother of an eight-year-old girl has now shared her story of turning her dream into a reality this summer vacation.
The supply chain specialist at an oil and gas company in Dubai has defied many odds to climb Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest free-standing mountain in the world, but feels “it was nothing” compared to her battles with thyroid cancer.
Nadiera’s journey to Kilimanjaro, Africa’s tallest peak, began as a dream that took root in her mind around five years ago after she had defeated thyroid cancer for the first time.
“At that time, I had not even seen proper photos of the magnificent mountain. But I had read about it and dreamt about conquering it,” said the Indian expat hailing from the state of Kerala.
It was when she was about five months pregnant with her daughter Aira that Nadiera was first diagnosed with cancer. After three years of treatment including surgery, her cancer cells were completely destroyed in three years.
But she had to keep aside her bucket list as she endured a relapse of thyroid cancer in 2021. “I had thought I would go after my health becomes okay,” she said.
No compromise on dreams
Nadiera’s treatment continued, and she was finally cancer-free by March 2023. Then she decided it was time to stop compromising on her dreams.
“Sometimes we may not have health when we have time and money, so I didn’t want to wait any longer,” she said.
The next challenge was getting physically fit for the gruelling climb. “I started going to the gym again. But I got an injury on my left leg.”
Despite a setback from the injury, Nadiera said she remained determined. The desire to realise her ambition was rekindled during a chat with a group of friends in May, she said.
Nadiera then discussed it with her husband Praveen who was more than happy to accompany her on this adventurous journey. “Unfortunately, he had to back out due to some health issues diagnosed just a week before the trip.”
However, Nadiera said was lucky to have two friends from Dubai to join her group expedition—Praveen’s childhood friend Rajiv Sankaran, and Nadiera’s colleague Shyam Sahadevan,
“Praveen and Aira joined us in Zanzibar to celebrate our achievement later.”
She said she and her life-long friends from Dubai supported each other to prepare for the expedition and finally booked the trip through a reputed tour organiser in Tanzania.
However, Nadiera said she did not feel physically well prepared. “Since I couldn’t exercise well and prepare well to be physically fit, deep inside me I had a fear if I would be able to do it. On top of it, I had bronchitis just before we left. My doctor here gave me an inhaler.”
Battling altitude sickness, fatigue, and unpredictable weather conditions, she persevered through each gruelling day of the expedition. On the seven-day hiking trip, the real test came on the sixth night when the group had to undertake a 10 to 12-hour climb to the summit.
The weather conditions were extreme, with temperatures plummeting to a bone-chilling minus 16 degrees Celsius, Nadiera recalled.
She said she relied on the inhaler containing steroids for respite. However, the extreme cold weather and altitude sickness aggravated her bronchitis and made her feel more breathless. “I required oxygen support.”
Excited but exhausted
Due to the impending challenges as they go further, her guide was apprehensive about Nadiera continuing the climb. “You won’t be able to make it, the guide told me.”
But Nadiera was not one to back down easily and let go of her dream. “Since my capacity was challenged, I was determined to go. I went all the way from the UAE to Africa and walked for six days. So I didn’t want to come back without finishing my dream journey. I didn’t tell him [the guide] that. I just said, lemme try and see how far I can climb.”
She continued, and the group reached Stella Point Kilimanjaro, one of the three official summit points at an altitude of 5,756m (18,885 feet).
That was the most exciting moment of realising her dream. Yet, Nadiera was gasping for breath. Due to her health issues, she couldn’t go further to the Uhuru Peak, the highest free-standing peak, 5,895m above sea level.
“The route from Stella Point to Uhuru Peak is a climb of just 170m. But it would have taken another hour or so. However, that stretch that runs on a ridge is where most climbers suffer the most. I was already feeling like a zombie-like trance, dozing off even while walking.”
Nadiera’s guide advised her against climbing further as she had already been on oxygen support. “He told me it is going to be riskier for my health. So I didn’t want to take further risk,” she said.
'Most incredible views'
Though she could not realise her end goal of reaching Uhuru Peak, Nadiera’s overall experience was nothing short of incredible.
“From the second day onwards, we were above the clouds. I had seen clouds like that only from flights,” said Nadiera. She was also excited to see the stunning views of the glaciers. More thrill awaited her on the night of the summit ascent.
“It was incredible to witness the Milky Way and the galaxy with my naked eyes. I had never seen the sky so clear with so many stars. The Moon looked the most beautiful ever.”
The return trip led them through a rainforest, yet another first-time experience for Nadiera, who described it as “walking through a 3D movie.”
She was also extremely touched by the hospitality and warmth of the local crew members. “There were 42 of them to look after 10 of us. They were extremely helpful and cheered us up all the time.”
As a cancer survivor, she believes that her Kilimanjaro journey pales in comparison to her two-time battle against cancer. “Only when you are mentally strong can you make it,” she said.
With her story, Nadiera said, she hopes to remind everyone that with unwavering determination, we can overcome even the most formidable challenges life throws our way.