Mountain-climbing judge’s biggest molehill: Fighting cancer

Put one foot in front of the other. For Snohomish County Superior Court Judge Marybeth Dingledy, that old advice for facing adversity isn’t nearly enough.

She steps it up — way up.

On Wednesday, the 43-year-old was officially back at work, but not from a fun-filled Christmas vacation. Dingledy, appointed to the bench a year ago, was recovering from a double mastectomy. She had surgery Dec. 5.

With her intrepid spirit, she plans to celebrate her recovery by climbing Alaska’s Denali, the highest peak in North America. Her recent surgery wasn’t the first time Dingledy coped with a health challenge. And the Denali climb in June won’t be the first time she’ll turn trouble into triumph.

“I didn’t panic about it,” Dingledy said Wednesday about the mastectomy. “I knew the potential was there. I had a lot of time to prepare.”

It was 2009, before her trek that summer up Africa’s Mount Kilimanjaro, that Dingledy first was interviewed for this column. Then an attorney with the Snohomish County Public Defender Association, she told how in 2003 she learned she had inherited an altered BRCA2 gene.

People with a mutated BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene, according to the National Cancer Institute, have a much higher than normal risk of developing breast or ovarian cancer.

In a great leap beyond the specter of her genetics, Dingledy decided to climb mountains. She summited Mount Baker in 2006 in her first trek with the Climb to Fight Breast Cancer, a fundraiser for Seattle’s Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.

She has since climbed Mount Olympus in Olympic National Park, Mount Kilimanjaro, Iztaccihuatl and Pico de Orizaba in Mexico, and has twice summited Mount Rainier. She also climbed Mount Shasta, but didn’t reach the top.

In October 2011, Dingledy took a serious step to improve her chances of dodging cancer. On the advice of doctors at Seattle Cancer Care Alliance, she had a preventative hysterectomy, which is removal of the uterus, and had her ovaries removed. That reduced her risk for both ovarian and breast cancer.

And yet, this past July 30 she learned she had a noninvasive type of breast cancer, ductal carcinoma in situ, or DCIS. Dingledy reacted to that bad news as she has in the past, putting one foot in front of the other in big ways.

The weekend after finding out she had breast cancer, Dingledy took a two-week backpacking trip. In September, before the mastectomy, she and a friend walked 60 miles in Seattle’s Susan G. Komen 3-Day walk. At the end of that breast-cancer research fundraiser, Dingledy wore a pink shirt at the closing ceremony. “A pink shirt is for survivors,” she said.

She threw herself a party the weekend before she lost her breasts, which she jokingly called “the twins.”

When she showed up for her mastectomy in Seattle, she wore a tiara and a pink boa. Within a week, she was up and busy. “When I got on the exercise bike in the basement, everybody yelled at me. I can’t sit still,” she said.

She doesn’t need radiation or chemotherapy. Her focus now is on 20,320-foot Denali, also called Mount McKinley.

Dingledy shares her story on the Climb to Fight Breast Cancer www.fhcrc.org/climb

To read more about Marybeth Dingledy’s planned Denali climb:

http://tinyurl.com/MDDenaliClimb

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