‘Cancer takes a lot of things away from you — but I don’t want it to take this away,’ says four-time CN Tower climber

Liisa Ladouceur has climbed the CN Tower four times, but that was before cancer.

After being diagnosed with ovarian cancer last year — and undergoing surgery and several months of chemotherapy — reaching the top for the fifth time with Team Doing Stuff isn’t just about raising money for WWF-Canada. It’s an important part of her recovery.

Liisa (centre) and two members of Team Doing Stuff at a past CN Tower Climb.
Liisa (centre) and two members of Team Doing Stuff at a past CN Tower Climb.

What inspired you to sign up the very first time, and what’s kept you coming back?

The first time, I was invited by a colleague who was doing it. I’d never gone up the tower in my life despite living in Toronto for 30 years because I’m afraid of heights. I didn’t want to take the elevator ride up. I thought, “I can climb it instead? Cool, I can do that.”

I’m not a super fit person, but I really like physical activity. Afterwards, I realized, “wow, I just climbed the CN Tower in about 30 minutes.” I didn’t think I could do that. I wanted to do it again so I took over trying to convince other people that they could do it too, even if they thought they couldn’t.

How would you describe that very first climb?

It was an adrenaline rush! There are all these teams lined up. Some people have outfits and there’s just an energy to it. You’ve been thinking about the climb for months or training at your gym, and then all of a sudden, you’re in the stairwell. Okay, here we go.

What makes this year’s CN Tower Climb different?

This year is different because I haven’t done the climb since 2018. I’m also in a very different body.

Last year, I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. I had an invasive surgery and then I went through several months of chemotherapy. Both of those things really took a toll on my physical body and in many ways I’m still struggling.

I’m very thrilled to be cancer-free — the four best words in English to me now are ‘no signs of disease.’ But my body is still not recovered fully, so I would like to have a goal that inspires me to get up, exercise and help myself get better.

[The climb] is something that I look forward to every April. It gives me an opportunity in the winter to get more physically active. I have a goal that I can train for. Cancer takes a lot of things away from you. But I don’t want to take this away. I want to prove that I can still do this.

And I do not expect to be fast. I used to do this in about 30 minutes, maybe 32, maybe 34. It might take me an hour. But I have teammates who took more than an hour because they had their own mobility challenges. We were there cheering for them, and they were still thrilled to make it. This year, that’s going to be me. I know my teammates will be there cheering me on.

I’m really excited about it — and also a bit petrified!

How are you preparing and what keeps you motivated to push forward?

I’ve been doing the stairs here in my building. It’s tough, but once you get in the stairwell, you just put one foot in front of the other.

Motivational artwork drawn by kids posted in the CN Tower stairwell
Artwork from schools covers all 144-floors of the CN Tower. (c) WWF-Canada

There are also drawings on the walls inside the CN Tower from the school children encouraging me – do it for the panda! When I’m training and it gets hard, I actually think about those drawings and I’m like, “I’m going to get in the stairwell and every floor is going to be kids I’ve never met cheering me on to the top.”

I also have an awesome team of friends. I have some repeat friends who’ve done it with me before, and I also have three people who’ve never done it, and we’re going to make team headbands. To me, it’s about bringing people together — people who think maybe they can’t do it and encouraging them to do it. They’re encouraging me. I’m encouraging them. We check in with each other. And to me, that’s a big part of it.

What would you say to people who might be going through something similar or feel intimidated by the tower?

I think it might shock some of my friends and family that I signed up this year because I am still recovering, and I am still struggling in many ways. But I like to remind myself and others that I am more than just my body and I am more than what I can physically do in a day. I’m also my dreams and my aspirations. And so, I’m dreaming of climbing up the CN Tower this year, so I have to try.

The worst thing that happens is I get there and physically can’t do it. I’ve still raised money for a good cause, and I’ve still got my friends there and I’m going to cheer them on. There’s really no downside to signing up.

Recovering from cancer is not a light switch, right? You don’t go back to your old self when you walk out after your last treatment. It’s a series of steps of recovery. And for me, this is a huge step in my recovery. Being able to do this climb means more than just climbing for charity for the day. It is a huge step towards the rest of my life.

Feeling inspired? There’s still time to register for WWF’s CN Tower Climb for Nature on April 15 and 16. Every step you take and dollar you raise will help protect and restore habitats across the country, reverse wildlife loss and fight climate change.