ExWeb interview with Thomas Davenport, "know thy enemy, assemble the best team and then go to it"

Posted: Oct 31, 2008 03:59 am EDT

Thomas Davenport of Maryland, US, will ski to the pole and kite back to the coast. His will be one of the most hardcore Antarctica expeditions this year; yet Thomas is adding another stake to the challenge.

He will travel with parts of his colon removed, after being diagnosed with cancer in December 2006. To make it all easy for us, Davenport has named his website "fromend2end."

ExWeb caught up with the American explorer shortly before he headed south.

ExWeb: How did you get the idea for an expedition to the Poles?

Thomas: I can remember reading the Scott and Amundsen exploits in grade-school adventure books; so it's been simmering away for quite some time. The problem was I didn't quite know how to turn an expedition down South into a reality until I read, some three or four years ago, about a polar training course in the Arctic offered by Matty [McNair] and her family. From then on the dream became a lot more serious.

ExWeb: Have you done adventures before?

Thomas: Some adventures before, but not this hard core. When I was younger I used to do a lot of winter camping excursions, cycling trips, rock climbing, etc. These gave way to more hiking and long-distance running/marathons (and ice hockey) - though in recent years my "adventuring" has been primarily limited to the work realm; that is, living and running development programs in Africa and Asia.

ExWeb: When did you get the cancer and how did it affect your life?

Thomas: I was first diagnosed in December 2006. As for the life changing aspect, I think it has enabled me to have more perspective about what is important. And while I still check my blackberry more than I should I think I now place a much greater priority on family and friends. Second, it's taught me to bring forward my dreams.

ExWeb: What are your main concerns for the upcoming expedition?

Thomas: My biggest concern is the same as anyone's - will we get the right weather and will we avoid any random mishaps. A secondary concern will be how will my digestive system respond to the challenge, having lost some of my colon and my rectum as a result of surgery. From the research I've done the cold, the increased food intake and the exercise should not dramatically alter my routines.

ExWeb: Polar food is fat and whole grain. How do you think this will affect your situation?

Thomas: I think it should all be manageable. The good news is that there is a great deal of repetition in the diet (like 10 different ways to eat freeze-dried pasta) that I'm sure the body, meaning the digestive system, will adapt. But I'll be bringing along a good supply of Metamucil and TP just to be safe.

ExWeb: You are going unsupported which means you have to balance weight vs. nutrition. Are you planning a special diet?

Thomas: Actually, we're going supported. There will be at least one drop at the Thiel Mountains, and then another at the Pole itself, when we switch over from the x-country to the downhill skis and kites. As for a special diet I think my only difference will be my love of liquorice all sorts and the fact that I may avoid too much in the way of beans.

ExWeb: You plan an expedition to the pole and back (with sail support). How do you expect this continuous, physical effort to affect your condition?

Thomas: Good question and I certainly hope I'll be up to the task. Medically speaking I don't think the surgeries, radiation and chemo should have much impact. When I ask around and study the literature there is little out there that suggests the treatment should have a lasting impact. Issues like neuropathy (a sensitivity to cold), which can be a side effect of the chemo - dissipate over time...remember Lance Armstrong's major accomplishments came after his cancer ordeals.

ExWeb: Author of Deep Survival, Laurence Gonzales, says that surviving tough situations on expeditions takes similar approach as surviving cancer or a divorce. Do you agree?

Thomas: Ask me at the end of January (on the cancer aspect...on the divorce comparison, I can't help - I'm very happily married).

ExWeb: He said that to be a survivor you have to have a solid inner core; trust yourself, be confident, but also humble and move fast past beyond seeking blame or self-pity to find (and believe in) a way out of the "impossible" situation. You are combing one of the most difficult expeditions on Earth with one of the most devastating "civilian" experiences (cancer) - what do you hope to learn (and teach?).

Thomas: To be honest I haven't given this much thought. I do certainly agree that self-pity or finding someone to blame is the wrong use of time and energy. As for teaching, I suppose one lesson would be not to put off to tomorrow, what can be done today. More specifically, if there is one thing I hope people remember from this expedition is the message of colorectal prevention. Colorectal cancer in North America kills more people annually than breast cancer and aids combined and yet for the most part it's completely preventable. If people would follow the recommended screening practices - i.e. if you're over 50, if you have a family history, if you display symptoms - the incident rate could drop by an astonishing 85%! And that is why for this expedition I have partnered with Colon Cancer Alliance in the US and the Colorectal Cancer Association of Canada, both of whom are doing an outstanding job in raising awareness of this unnecessary disease.

ExWeb: What would be your "dream" expedition after this one?

Thomas: Something with my family.

ExWeb: Any heroes?

Thomas: That's a tough one...as a child they were all hockey players, but over time I tended to admire different aspects of a variety people. For a journey like this however, it's tough to do better than the professionalism of Amundsen and the guts of Shackleton.

ExWeb: Your best advice to someone who just learned he/she has cancer?

Thomas: We all deal with these things differently, but I can say that the best advice I had was to learn as much as I can, about the disease, the treatment options and who offers the best care. In this respect networking is key. I received fantastic guidance from friends and family in the medical profession helped me connect with some of the best people in the area of colorectal treatment (Sibley Hospital and Sloan Kettering). "Be prepared to use sharp elbows..." was also excellent advice, especially if the Dr.'s office tells you he/she can't see you for a few weeks. In short, know thy enemy, assemble the best team and then go to it.

ExWeb: Your best advice to people overall?

Thomas: Hmm...ask me when I come back.

ExWeb: One single thing you look most forward to on this expedition?

Thomas: Looking up from my skis and seeing the Pole in the not-to-distant horizon.

ExWeb: Your biggest fear?

Thomas: I'll break my leg hopping off the plane at Patriot Hills.

Twenty-two year old Sarah McNair-Landry (Canada) will be leading a team of four from Hercules Inlet to the South Pole. The team members are Thomas Davenport (USA), Steven Gates (Australia), Ross Maxwell (New Zealand) and Kari Gundeso (Norway). They will be resupplied. At the South Pole Sarah and Tom will change skis and kite back to Hercules Inlet.

Tom (48) was born in the United Kingdom, but lived in Canada from age one. Currently he is from Cabin John, Maryland (just outside of Washington, DC), "Where I live with my wonderful (and wonderfully supportive) wife, Gail," he says. "We have a great nineteen year old son, Ryan, who is currently playing Junior A hockey in New Hampshire." Tomâs parents and siblings all live in Canada.

Regarding Tomâs musical taste, Tragically Hip and Counting Crows dominates his iPod. He says the best books he has ever read are The World According to Garp, The Sparrow and Ms. Smilla's Sense of Snow.

#Polar #Medical #feature #interview

I was first diagnosed [with cancer] in December 2006, says Thomas. As for the life changing aspect, I think it has enabled me to have more perspective about what is important." Image from Davenport's endtoend-expedition website (click to enlarge).
Twenty-two year old veteran polar skier Sarah McNair-Landry from Canada will be leading a team of four from Hercules Inlet to the South Pole. Sarah and Thomas will return to Hercules Inlet with kites. Image courtesy of Sarah McNair-Landry (click to enlarge)

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