Elderly Cancer Patient Pulls Off Grueling Feat at Grand Canyon

Fran Anderson, 81, finishes 24-mile rim-to-rim hike in 21 hours, with family by her side
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 18, 2023 10:05 AM CDT

An 81-year-old grandmother of nine with blood cancer who nearly died of pneumonia a few months back has pulled off a feat that would test even the healthiest among us. On Sept. 4, Fran Anderson of Orange, California, finished a rim-to-rim hike across the Grand Canyon, a 24-mile trek that took her 21 hours to complete, fueled by a whole lot of determination. "Finishing was my goal, and it was going to happen no matter what," Anderson tells USA Today.

Anderson and six family members started off from the North Rim at 5:45am on Sept. 3, with a wrench already thrown at the group's plans: The hotel at the bottom of the canyon where they were set to spend the night canceled their reservation at the last minute, meaning the two-day hike they'd planned with a night of rest would have to be completed in one long push. Although Anderson's family was wary of completing the hike this way, Anderson herself was excited. And it wasn't an easy task. Anderson says she blew out her knees and hip just 2 miles into the journey, partly due to an ill-fitting backpack. "Every step was a struggle," says one of her daughters who hiked with her.

Anderson's companions took turns carrying her backpack, however, and they pushed on, refueling at the canyon's bottom with water and snacks before making the 10-mile uphill climb to the top of the South Rim. She arrived with family members at the finishing point, where her husband of 60 years was waiting for her, at 2:45am on Sept. 4. Anderson, whose non-Hodgkin lymphoma has led to a compromised immune system, is a case study in grit. In 2018, she broke her shoulder and knee after falling while putting up Halloween decorations—but three weeks after she got out of her wheelchair from that accident, Anderson embarked on a trip to Machu Picchu, Peru. "I had this trip planned and my doctor said, 'No way are you going on that,'" she says. "I said, 'No, I'm going.'"

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Anderson also came down with a bad case of pneumonia this past April after a South Pacific cruise, and doctors in the hospital couldn't believe she was as old as she is. "They said, 'You are just not our typical 80-year-old patient,'" Anderson says. "And I said, 'I'm getting out of here, I'm making it through.' And I did." This isn't the first time a person who's battled cancer has attempted the rim-to-rim feat: Dina Mishev wrote about her experience in 2017 for the Washington Post, after enduring chemo, a double mastectomy, radiation, and reconstructive surgery during her treatment for breast cancer. Check out photos and video of Anderson's adventure here from another one of her daughters, a life coach who helped Anderson put together a training program for her hike. (More uplifting news stories.)

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