Whitaker, who lives in Wynnewood, met Laura Evans, the expedition's leader, at a conference in Sun Valley, Idaho, in February.
"I found out she had a bone-marrow transplant" to combat a primary, Stage 3, breast cancer, Whitaker said. "Then, I found out she climbed Mount Kilimanjaro," which is 19,340 feet.
A climber since 1988, Whitaker also made the assault on Kilimanjaro in 1992.
"I was just absolutely awe-struck that following her fight with cancer, being at death's door, and she was able to do that," Whitaker said.
Enthralled by Evans and her mission, Whitaker enlisted her friend, Regan, who lives in Radnor, to spread the word about the January expedition.
The two women, who do not have breast cancer, spent about $500 each for printing and postage to mail information packets about the fund-raising program to 1,000 friends and acquaintances.
"I really believe in Expedition Inspiration and what they are doing. The packet could also educate our friends about breast cancer," Whitaker said.
Evans had a "very small chance of survival" when she was found to have breast cancer in 1989. Nevertheless, she has climbed seven major mountains since then, including Russia's Mount El'brus, the highest peak in Europe, at 18,510 feet.
She invited Whitaker and Regan along on the El'brus climb last month.
"She is an inspiration. . . . There was another woman with breast cancer along, and it was wonderful to see the courage these women had," Whitaker said.
The El'brus mountaineers began climbing on Sept. 7, going to 7,000 feet. After two days of practicing maneuvers and getting acclimated to the altitude, they pushed to 13,800 feet. After two more days at the base camp, they climbed the summit.
As she neared the top, Regan, who has been climbing for 10 years, told herself not to look up.
"You're only supposed to concentrate on the next few steps. If you look up, you see how far you have to go and you get very discouraged," she said.
Whitaker was stricken with altitude sickness at 16,000 feet and could not complete the climb.
"I was disappointed," she said. "I tend to be goal-oriented, and this was the first time I have not reached a summit. I'm still processing the whole thing, but what I'm learning is to go for the experience, being in Russia, and being with Laura Evans."
Jansport, of Appleton, Wis., is funding the expedition, which will include six guides, four medical personnel, a writer and photographer, Evans and 15 breast cancer survivors. The money raised will go principally to the nonprofit Breast Cancer Fund.
A Swiss company, Raichle Molitor, USA Inc., is marketing stuffed dogs copied after Evans' Bernese mountain dog called Buster. Part of the profits
from the sale of the $25 stuffed dog will go to breast cancer, as does the sale of other goods, such as hiking boots, logoed patches, pins and shirts, and Tibetan prayer flags.
"What (this climb) shows me is not only are these women well enough from the cancer to do this, but they didn't let their spirit get broken by the breast cancer," Whitaker said. "They are still out there struggling and have a plan to climb the highest mountain in the Western Hemisphere.
"That is just so exciting to me."
FOR MORE INFORMATION
* For more information, write to Expedition Inspiration, Box 512, Wynnewood, Pa. 19096-1810.