"We need to talk about death:" Hospice nurse who sees it regularly is on journey that could end his life

FOND DU LAC (WITI) -- For hikers, there is no bigger goal than getting to the top of Mount Everest in Nepal. Those looking to attempt the feat spend thousands of dollars on the trip, and some lose their lives trying. A Wisconsin climber wants you to hear about his trip, and he wants all of us to start talking about death.

If your daily workout is getting to be a bit of a drag, you're welcome to try to keep up with Andy Land. But know this: He's going somewhere very few get to go -- a place from which some never return. He is preparing to climb Mount Everest.

"I'm gonna give it everything I got to get to the top, but the summit isn't promised to anyone," Land said.

Training to scale a 26,000-foot mountain has its challenges in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, where the elevation tops out at 760 feet above sea level. Several times a week, Land, an experienced climber, comes to a modest hill with a child's sled, an old tire full of weights and a backpack loaded down with a few more pounds.

"It's more mental than physical," Land said.

Maybe you're thinking you'd rather die than haul 50 pounds of gear up and down a hillside. Land's actually okay with that thought -- because then you'd at least be talking about dying -- and that's the point of this whole life-changing mission.

"Climbing is the perfect metaphor for what my patients and their families go through," Land said.

Land's patients are in hospice care -- preparing for an impending death, but looking to make the most of what's left in life. It is Land's job to help relieve the suffering his patients go through and that begins with accepting what's happening.

"Dying is a part of living and we need to talk about that. In the U.S., we pretend like it's never gonna happen and we don't talk about dying until it's so obvious the person is going to die that no one can deny it," Land said.

77-year-old Pat Duley doesn't deny what's happening to her. She is battling both colon and liver cancer -- diseases that will take her life. Having Land as her hospice nurse is helping her to prepare for death.

"It's gonna happen and we all know it's gonna happen. It's best if you talk about it. You can't sweep it under the rug. It's not gonna go away," Duley said.

Also not going away is Land's desire to conqure mountains -- even one that's taken the lives of hundreds of hikers over the years.

"You twist your ankle and you can't get yourself down -- you're dead. There's no helicopter, no nothing," Land said.

It's candid talk about death from someone who sees it regularly, and doesn't want you to avoid talking about it when it's time.

"This trip will be a success if I perform well and get back down alive, but more importantly, if we can make a difference in how people and their families struggling to live in the face of death get the care they need," Land said.

Land leaves for Nepal later this month. Once there, he'll have to spend a few weeks in a base camp getting used to the altitude. He should begin his ascent of Everest sometime in May.