Jean Wescher

So Others Can Fight
Friday, July 28
It’s been a week now since we descended from the summit of Mt. Fuji. I think back and feel the smile on my face. I fondly remember standing on top of Mt. Fuji, with the sun rising in the background, arm-in-arm with a new family. A family of patients with multiple myeloma, patients’ family members, a doctor, employees of our sponsor, Takeda Pharmaceuticals, our amazing Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation (MMRF) staffers and a couple of us who have sadly lost someone we love to this terrible disease.

My father, at 63, lost his life to a cancer most people never hear of until it happens to someone they know and love. After nearly 12 years of fighting this deadly cancer, my father couldn’t outrun it anymore. All his treatment options had been tried and had failed. It would’ve been easy to walk away from the MMRF and not look back. My father was gone. There was nothing the MMRF could do to bring him back.

In the 18 months after my father’s passing, the MMRF helped bring 3 new drugs to market that are helping multiple myeloma patients all over the world. I think to myself, why couldn’t he have held on a little longer? Just three months more and he would’ve had a new drug to try. I had a 3-week-old son who would never get to know his Papa. That was a very hard pill to swallow, but then I started to think about all the patients out there who still could benefit from these new drugs — all the papas not getting to take their grandsons to ballgames.  I wanted to be a part of helping these papas of the world getting to know their grandchildren, even if our Papa didn’t.

When I was selected to be a part of this Mt. Fuji team, I was excited. I did want to help rid the world of multiple myeloma, but things really changed once I met our team members, whom I now consider family. I heard so many of them say to me, “It’s great that you are still in the fight!” But I was no longer fighting for this general idea of curing cancer. I was fighting for my “dad” (Jeff), my “sister” (Deana) and the rest of our team of patients (Leslie, Patti, Ryan and Steve). And I was there to cry with my “sister” Lauren, whose mom is currently in remission but still understands the reality of this diagnosis, as there still is no cure.

Standing on the summit was awe-inspiring in itself, but hearing “Amazing Grace” being played by Ryan was, to me, the highlight of my experience on that mountain. I felt so close to my dad. I had his picture and the small Snoopy that my daughter had given to him, and I just breathed it all in as the tears flowed. That moment will forever stick in my mind and I’m grateful that I had the opportunity to share in this amazing accomplishment.

I feel so incredibly blessed to have been a part of such a monumental task and so proud of our entire team. Seeing all 6 of our patients get to the top of that mountain and get to the bottom (because as one of our amazing tour guides on Fuji, Brent, said, “it’s not about getting to the top, it’s about getting to the bottom!”) will forever be burned in my mind. They are the true heroes who are fighting this disease every day or gearing up to fight it. I climbed for them, I climbed to honor my dad, and I climbed to help find an end to this disease.
Hiking for Dad
Thursday, June 15
Nearly three years ago, my father lost his 12-year battle with multiple myeloma, a deadly blood cancer that is treatable for many, but still uncurable.   
In just over a month, I will be taking on the challenge of climbing to the top of Mt. Fuji, which sits at 12,388 feet.  I am blessed to be a part of a team of 20 climbing this mountain.  Our group consists of six patients currently in different phases of their myeloma journey, family members of those battling the disease, a myeloma doctor, wonderful pharmaceutical reps from our sponsor Takeda, and a couple of us who have lost loved ones to this terrible disease.   

I have always been very active as a child and as an adult.  When I describe myself, I say that I am a wife, mother and runner.  It is truly my passion and it’s a passion that I shared with my Dad.  He was my biggest supporter when it came to following my running dreams and was always there, wherever I looked.  Even after his passing, I can still hear him cheering and see him waving a big Cougar flag (this was his dedicated duty when I ran cross country in high school!).  These days when I run, if it’s not my day or I just don’t feel great, I think of my Dad and how he didn’t feel “good” for years but suffered through treatments, trials and transplants, and that pushes me to go beyond my limits.  I recently qualified for the Boston marathon after several attempts throughout the past 3 years and I know he was out there on that course with me.  He would’ve loved planning our trip to Boston next April! 

After the initial raw grief of losing my Dad, I saw a post on Facebook about the MMRF’s Moving Mountains for Multiple Myeloma program.  It was an information sheet for a group they were looking to put together to climb Mt. Fuji.  At this point, I didn’t even know where Mt. Fuji was (totally had to Google it!).  But I filled out the form, and later on the application, and now I’m part of the team! 

For the first couple years after my Dad was gone, the thought of jumping back in with MMRF hurt. My Dad had lost the fight; he didn’t beat this cancer.  But now, I cannot think of a better way to honor his memory and his fight than by climbing in his honor and raising money for this organization that was near and dear to our hearts for so many years. 

My dad originally was diagnosed with only three to five years to live, but lived almost 12 years with this disease.  He had a great team of doctors but he also had the MMRF.  The research and collaborations this organization is involved in has given hope to so many and is one day going to cure cancer.  In the three years since my Dad’s passing, the MMRF has brought to market four new treatments for myeloma patients.  Who knows, one of those could’ve given my Dad more time.  I am grateful for the years that I did have with him though.  If it weren’t for the MMRF and what they are doing, my Dad may not have been there to walk me down the aisle, or meet his grandchildren. 

The goal (or fundraising minimum) – raise $5,000.  I was very nervous about this.  The last time I raised money like this was when I ran for the MMRF Team Cures program at the Chicago Marathon back in 2009.  But my Dad was alive then, and helped me fundraise!  With him gone, I really didn’t know how things would go.  But I trusted that I could do it and that people would support me.  I have been overcome with emotion at how many people have supported me on this undertaking – both financially and emotionally.  It was been a wonderful way to remember my Dad.  People will tell me stories of my Dad but one common thread is that everyone tells me how proud he would be.  I just wish I could tell my Dad how proud I am of him and what he endured.  Climbing this mountain won’t be easy, but it’s nothing compared to fighting cancer. 

Recently, I was asked by one of our local radio stations, WBBM 780 AM, to do an interview to talk about the trek and what we are doing.  I can picture my Dad’s face as he’s hearing the news on WBBM as he heard Steve Miller interview me about my trek to Mt. Fuji.  He always listened to the news station on trips to and from the city (mostly for the traffic on the eights!) so I know he would’ve heard it and just been smiling from ear to ear.  I’m honored that I had the chance to share his story through an outlet that reaches so many more people than my Facebook page. 

My dad wasn’t the only one listening to the news that day.  Several people reached out to me that I wasn’t able to get a hold of via traditional fundraising methods. I also heard from friends of my Dad who didn’t know he passed.  In the day of and day after the interview aired, I raised just over $1,000!

I remember telling my husband, David – as I’m crying from all the emotions that have been brought up by the recent interview – that I wish my Dad was here for all this.  He would’ve just thought this was the coolest thing and he totally would’ve bragged about it to anyone who would have listened.  David looked at me and said “He has the best view of all of this.”  
 
Interested in multiple myeloma updates from CURE®? Sign up for our newsletter!

Partners
Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation

View our interviews with climber Chuck Wakefield