William James never knew what it meant to be strong until he had to face a world without his father.
In 2005, William sat in a sterile, plain doctor’s office and heard the words that altered the course of his life. His father-- his best friend, mentor, and personal hero, was diagnosed with squamous cell lung cancer. He had no surgery options.
The reality of cancer takes a toll on a family. Suddenly, William and his family traded in dinners at the kitchen table and afternoons outside for long trips to Rome for treatment, hours of chemotherapy, and multiple rounds of radiation.
James’s mother was a nurse and did her best to care for James’s father around the clock at home. James took the trip to the hospital to sit by his side for every treatment. His father fought for two years alongside a devoted family. This time gave William a deep understanding of the toll that cancer takes not only on the individual facing it, but the family unit.
“I felt so helpless,” William said. “I knew that there was nothing I could do, but I prayed every day that he would be okay”
On August 22, 2007, William’s father passed away, surrounded by family.
“This was the hardest day of my life,” William said. “The man who had always had the answers to my questions and the steady hand to help me back up when life knocked me down, was gone. I was completely lost.”
About a month before his father passed away, he told William that after a lot of consideration, his last wish was for his ashes to be taken to a mountaintop in Alaska. His dad had always loved the pictures of the snow capped mountains and open spaces that William brought home from his climb there several years earlier.
William agreed, and made the trek with his wife Tara to a summit in the Chugach Mountain Range just outside of Anchorage.
“It was a peace-filled moment, which I didn’t expect,” William said. “I was looking over a valley carved by glaciers and I felt this sense of renewed strength. For the first time I felt like I might be able to continue on without my dad.”
As soon as William came off of the summit in Alaska, he got to work. He knew that he wanted to help other families who were facing cancer. William and Tara were aware of the many medical facilities and support services available to patients, but they saw the need for an organization that could provide for families as a whole. Thus, Summit Quest was born.
Over the next few months, William focused on building a passionate board of directors, gaining nonprofit status, and fostering connections in the community. The team attended trainings and collected educational materials that would teach them how to structure the organization in a way that did the most good possible. They named it Summit Quest as a reminder of the journey that led William to take action in the first place.
Now, years after its founding, Summit Quest is operating every day with the goal of treating cancer holistically. Because cancer reaches so far beyond treatment, Summit Quest is there to help with the everyday struggles that result from having to put life on hold to treat cancer.
“Family time is good for the soul,” William said. “It’s always a good thing when we get the chance to give a family a day together, far away from all of the struggles of treatment and being in a hospital.”
Through founding and serving as the executive director of Summit Quest, William James has gotten to fill the need he has seen since he was young, when he watched his father undergo the fight against cancer.