Alicia O'Neill

Guest Blog: Sharing Sentiments
Wednesday, February 28
Hi, I’m Ben, one of the two camera guys that help make the videos for Moving Mountains for Multiple Myeloma. If you’re out there with us, I’m the shorter one with the blue backpack. My favorite given trail names: Big Booty Ben, Benyonce and Street Meat (don’t eat the roadside beef kabobs by Kilimanjaro…).

Just a few days ago, I’m at a dinner party with my Portland family of friends, and as we round the table sharing what’s new in our lives, this trip to Nepal is, obviously, my big news. After replying to the first couple of questions, I lean forward and interject, “Yeah, all that stuff is going to be jaw dropping, but here’s what I’m really excited about…” And, so MM4MM blog family friends, I’d love to share the same sentiments about this upcoming seventh trip.

Some of the team are outdoor veterans, but amazingly, some may have little or zero backpacking experience before signing up for this nine-day trek to Base Camp. I’m honored to meet soon-to-be-friends that have been in the fight of their lives, figuratively and literally. This group, either personally or supportively, have looked into the void and squared their shoulders to that unknown, and this trek is a small physical representation of the greater uphill battle they’ve endured. Every mountain viewpoint is more than just a new vantage: It’s a new day, it’s an experience that wasn’t promised and is now celebrated. Hugs are given tighter than we do in normal settings. Many smiles are deepened by happy tears. Each breath, even in thin air, is breathed deeply. We will start as strangers and end as family. And, while awareness needs to be shared of this nasty cancer, this program has raised over a million dollars of real world research to get multiple myeloma under control.

Ok, I definitely didn’t come up with “looked into the void and squared their shoulders” at the dinner table, But its true, and all these MM4MM trips have embodied it.

One last separate thing, after the MM4MM Machu Picchu trek, I came home to news over beers that my close friend was diagnosed with multiple myeloma. Now, this week before leaving for this MM4MM trip, I get a call he just left the hospital having gotten through stem cell replacement. I can’t wait to get a few videos on this trip of encouragement for him, to show him others that have kicked ass, proven life with multiple myeloma is a definition in flux and encourage him that others are fighting on his behalf while he recovers.

I’m not sure how to end this other than, I am truly honored to sweat, huff and puff, and carry a camera for this endeavor.
Guest Blog: A Remarkable Gift
Friday, February 23
John Waller
A common denominator in all the Moving Mountain programs for the past two years has been “the work” of collectively and individually overcoming cancer against the backdrop of a spectacular natural landscape. I believe the capacity of wild nature to permeate us with wisdom and healing from mental, emotional or physical trauma cannot be understated.

As a filmmaker and photographer with Moving Mountains since its inaugural climb of Kilimanjaro, I’ve sweat and struggled alongside many remarkable humans who have had multiple myeloma touch their lives. I am struck by many describing cancer as “a gift” because it was the catalyst for dramatic shifts in priority and perspective… the diagnosis, while devastating, has also been the source of incredible hope, love, potential, and alignment. The gift for many has been the embrace of these new opportunities to course correct in life. Another part of this gift has been the reveal of a path to experience wild raw nature. 

While the destinations for Moving Mountains have been exceptional in their reverence, the parts of the sum are the same sunrises, sunsets, rain, rocks, air, wind, and night skies that are familiar and accessible to most of us. No one destination has a monopoly on the nature we crave. I have been witness to Kathleen Kaufman raising her arms to a sunrise over the Grand Canyon on her birthday, and Gary Rudman watching the sunrise at 18,000 feet on Mt Kilimanjaro through teary and determined eyes. Take away the name of the place, and what you have is a raw and vulnerable human having an intimate and transformative connection with nature. 

Impossible layers of rock, exhilarating starry nights, the sensation of rain and icy winds…all remind us of the magic in our world that is so far beyond our control, or our understanding. The Moving Mountains program dismantles the walls between our comfortable lives and the comfort that nature can embrace us with. All of us are shifted and affected.  I’ve seen a seasoned guide weep and pray at the Kilimanjaro summit on his knees, and I’ve surrendered to sobbing on the same summit as I reached out to touch the blue ice walls of a glacier. 

I see these encounters with light, ice, plants, animals, and rock as being just as relevant and emotional as the intimacy and comfort of our climbing tribe…in fact, I consider wild nature to be one of our essential companions on the journey. It’s not every day that we have the opportunity to so closely share in conversation with nature.  It can be uncomfortable at times…heaving lungs in thin air, frozen fingers, trails that wind up through immense landscapes.  Like a diagnosis of cancer, the superficial small talk is substituted with a real dialog about how and why to proceed, and for all of us that is a remarkable gift. 
 
Guest Blog: Sharing the Journey
Thursday, February 22
Paul Gerald
For me, the mountains have always been a place of magic, peace and refreshment.

Since the first time I saw snow-covered peaks on the horizon, I have dreamed of going there. I wanted to explore the valleys, seeking mystery. I wanted to climb the hills, seeking perspective. I wanted to stroll the trails, seeking connection and understanding. I wanted to brave the weather and the danger and perhaps the solitude, to find courage.

It sounds a bit dramatic, but the song Rocky Mountain High was a sort of anthem in my life. I wanted to be that guy who climbed cathedral mountains and saw silver clouds below. As I got older and began to find my own spiritual path, I more fully understood lines like "his sight has turned inside himself to try and understand / the serenity of a clear blue mountain lake."

As I prepare to help lead this amazing group of people into the Himalayas, I must admit I have had some fears coming up. It's a massive undertaking, taking 20 people to the base of the highest mountain in the world. How will I respond to the physical and mental challenge? How will the elevation affect me? Can I be an effective leader and facilitator for these incredible people?

And then I remember it's not about me. Never has been. It's about us. And from my earliest trips to the mountains, I remember that it's not so much being up there that I long for; it's how I feel when I am up there. Challenged and satisfied. Awestruck and expanded. Inspired and humble. But most of all, connected. I feel connected to the mountains, to my best self, and to the people sharing this experience with me.

I have a good friend, Kristina, who won a battle with leukemia, and I will also be hiking for her. She has absolutely amazed me by not only overcoming the disease, but also fully re-engaging with her life afterwards. The courage, the strength, and the passion she has shown has simply blown my mind. Seeing that times 20 is something I cannot imagine, but cannot wait to experience.

We humans are capable of such amazing and beautiful things. It's in the face of adversity that we are so often at our best. It's in the mountains that I so often feel at my best. Sharing this incredible journey with these incredible people is an honor and a privilege.

I thank Embark and the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation (MMRF) for letting me be a part of this trip. I wish all of us the best. I thank the mountain spirits for allowing us to visit, and I pray for a safe and fulfilling journey for us all.
Guest Blog: The 'Lens' of an MM4MM Guide
Monday, February 19
Jim Ronning
Sometime during the 90's, while on a visit to England, my wife and I stayed at a B&B in the countryside of Cornwall. On the walls of our room, there had been pinned maps and photographs of the owner's travels in the Himalaya. At that moment my love affair with that incredible region was born.

For almost the entire next two decades, the High Himal has been, for me, the place in all the world where resides my chakra, my chi, my mojo. It is where I gather my energy, and where my spirit is restored. Consequently, I look forward to our upcoming departure for Nepal with great pleasure and immense anticipation. No matter how many times I visit them, I always approach these mountains with the same sense of wonder and awe as I felt when I first set my eyes upon them.

This will be, I think, my seventh journey to the Himalaya, and my fourth to the Solu-Khumbu, the home of our objective: Chomolungma, or "Goddess Mother of the World" to the Tibetans; Sagarmatha, the "Peak of Heaven" to the people of Nepal, and merely the prosaic Mt. Everest to we western travelers.

The geo-political region where that magnificent mountain resides is known as the Solu-Khumbu. It is, with its myriad of majestic, terrifying snow-covered peaks rising like stair steps into the sky from above the colorful trading settlement of Namche Bazaar, one of the most intense alpine environments, and perhaps the most overwhelmingly mountainous experience to be seen anywhere in the world. Nepal is home to eight of the world's 14 tallest mountains, the so-called "Eight Thousand Meter Peaks," and four of them can be viewed from this region, towering over scores of lesser peaks reaching only to a mere 6 or 7 thousand meters. It cannot be imagined; it must be encountered; it must be absorbed; it must be felt.

Always in the past I have traveled to this region for my own personal gratification, and to further my own mountaineering experiences. This time is different. This time it will be to assist a small army of dedicated and determined soldiers in their war against blood cancers, warriors bent on eradicating the threat, and to some, the reality, of multiple myeloma. To have even a small role in that fight, and to, in some slight way, help those fighters achieve their goals and realize their dreams, adds for me an entirely new level of satisfaction and enjoyment to the prospect of once again visiting these loftiest peaks in the world.

So, it is with a feeling of humble gratitude that I am allowed to once again voice what, to me, are perhaps the most exciting and exotic words in my lexicon: "I'll meet you in Kathmandu!"
Moving Mountains and Making Miracles
Tuesday, January 23
Alicia
On March 3, a team of 19 courageous people, made up of patients, caregivers, doctors and others – all with a direct connection to multiple myeloma, will climb to Everest Base Camp (EBC) and then beyond, to Kala Patthar, 18,500 feet above sea level. 

Everest Base Camp marks the 7th trek of the Moving Mountains for Multiple Myeloma (MM4MM) program, a partnership between Takeda Oncology, CURE Magazine and the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation (MMRF).  

Since our first climb in January 2016 to Mt. Kilimanjaro, 112 team members – including 24 myeloma patients - have been to four continents.  We’ve raised over $1.25 million, 100 percent of which, thanks to our partners, goes directly to the MMRF to fund and spearhead critical myeloma research. We’ve inspired hundreds of thousands of people with the beautiful stories we have told via videos, news articles, blogs and social media posts.

As this was all starting, back in 2015, we brainstormed a name for our new program, which would bring together teams to take on epic mountains and raise awareness and funds for myeloma research.  When the name “Moving Mountains for Multiple Myeloma” was suggested, we KNEW we had nailed it.

According to the Oxford Dictionary, “moving mountains” means “to achieve spectacular and apparently impossible results.”  A synonym for “moving mountains” is “miracle."

And do you know what a miracle looks like to 41-year-old multiple myeloma patient Jennifer Davis? It looks like three years after collapsing in her bedroom, unable to walk (and shortly thereafter being diagnosed with multiple myeloma), being able to take on a 12-day hike to Everest Base Camp.

For Mark Herkert, an EBC team member and multiple myeloma patient whose disease was so relentless and obstinate that he was out of treatment options, a miracle looks like a new drug coming to market at just the right time, resulting in his having no detectable cancer for the first time in eight years.

For JP Kealy, a miracle looked like committing — even prior to his stem cell transplant — to climb to the doorstep of the world’s tallest mountain with his wife of 23 years at his side. JP’s stem cell transplant was in April 2017.  Less than a year later, on March 3, 2018, he’ll be climbing to Everest Base Camp. And today, his cancer is “undetectable.”

I could go on, because every one of our 19 team members has a “spectacular and impossible” story to tell. 

But “Moving Mountains” means more, too. Since its inception in 1998, the MMRF has been moving Mountains … doing “the impossible.” Their innovative research model is disrupting a broken cancer research system, resulting in tripling the lifespan of myeloma patients. Along with researcher and pharmaceutical partners the MMRF has helped 10 new drugs come to market in the time it normally takes to bring ONE to patients. The MMRF moved mountains by sequencing the genomes of over 1100 myeloma patients over the course of eight years, in landmark study called CoMMpass, and in so doing created the largest data set in ALL of cancer. This data is now being shared with researchers worldwide to drive new theories and move closer to cracking the code on cancer.

Yes.  We are Moving Mountains for Multiple Myeloma patients. 

We hope you will join us in 2018 as we head to Iceland, Havasu Falls/Grand Canyon and take on a second trip to Everest Base Camp. Visit:  https://endurance.themmrf.org/2018MM4MM/




 
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