Dr. Melanie Thomas with her husband during a mountain hike

Climbing to New Heights

Cancer physician departs for mountaineering excursion.

On a daily basis, Melanie Thomas, MD, tackles the complex disease of cancer and helps patients through a scary time. This April, Dr. Thomas faces her own fear of heights while climbing a peak that neighbors Mount Everest.

She has helped patients through clinical trials, performed cancer research and is specifically well-versed in cancers of the liver, bile duct and gallbladder.

But aside from researching clinical trials, Dr. Thomas loves to climb mountains and explore distant lands. A yen for mountain climbing has taken her on a four-day climb of Machu Picchu in the Andes Mountain of Peru, through national parks in Chile and Patagonia. She has also explored Choquequirao, another lost city of the Incan civilization.

“I like to do these treks in out-of-the-way places,” Dr. Thomas said. “It’s amazing to see the beautiful scenery, and I really like the culture.”

Her love of climbing has grown to include an interest in Alpine mountaineering, which involves short stretches of rock and ice climbing and crossing glaciers. This new passion is taking Dr. Thomas to Nepal this April to the Everest Base Camp.

Dr. Thomas will begin her adventure in a small town where the road ends and the mountain trek begins.

“For anyone who goes to the Mount Everest region, the only way to get there is through this little town called Lukla,” she said. “It’s where climbers go if they plan to summit Mount Everest. It’s the last stopping point before climbing and there is no road after that.”

Lukla is 9,383 feet above sea level, and Mount Everest is 29,029 feet above sea level. While Dr. Thomas isn’t climbing Mount Everest, her plan is to summit Imja Tse, better known as Island Peak.

“I like adventures, but I really don’t like heights or precipitous drops. I also want to get above 20,000 feet. Part of this trip is to overcome those fears,” Dr. Thomas said. “I will have to climb on what is called a knife edge, where only one person can walk and both sides drop off straight down.”

One tradition of mountaineering is taking summit flags. Dr. Thomas is taking flags for the United States, South Carolina and Gibbs Cancer Center & Research Institute to plant once she makes it to the top of Island Peak.

You can follow her adventures on Instagram at @drmom12653