John DeBaun

Reflections on My Journey
Friday, August 04
Back in the cold of January, I was thinking of getting back to Japan. I am fascinated by the country and its people, an interest that goes back to 1970 when I was stationed there in the Navy for two years. I have been fortunate to have been able to go back three more times. 

And then the opportunity to return and climb Mount Fuji came along — a chance to honor my brother Bob and to help raise money for the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation (MMRF). It was truly the chance of a lifetime. I was chosen to go along for my fifth trip to Japan.

Shortly after the MMRF's Moving Mountains for Multiple Myeloma program said "yes," I had been accepted onto the team, and I agreed that "yes," I would go ... I got nervous.  I would have to raise $5,000 for the cause. Could I possibly do that? I would have to be able to get my 70-year-old body to the top of the mountain. That would take a lot of time and energy in preparation. And I would have to meet a bunch of new people … a step outside my comfort zone.

All those worries took care of themselves. I received so much support for the climb, I will never forget all those who helped. I made some new friends along the way. And I was able to reach the summit, although it was a harder and grittier experience than I had imagined. When I was planning the trip, I realized that was a possibility I would be so beat at the end of the climb that I would just want to come back home. But as the weeks went by, I knew I wanted to stay a few more days and have my wife, Gayle, join me. 

It was great to spend an extra week "recovering" from the climb in such an enchanting, mysterious and yet friendly culture.  In a world-class city like Tokyo, people can seem so involved in their own little world. But from the dinner we had with Takeda Pharmaceuticals representatives, to the climb up and down Fuji with Takeda's Shoukei Ehara, to numerous encounters in train stations when we were just momentarily lost and someone would come to our rescue, everywhere we went the Japanese people were so helpful. As we left an inn in Nikko, Gayle broke a plastic shoehorn she was using to put on her shoes. It was in too many pieces to bother with fixing, but the woman insisted on trying.  When we returned from a two-hour museum visit to leave, she presented it to Gayle — glued back together and all taped up.

It is a long trip to Japan, but one that is always worth it. Thank you to the MMRF for letting me be part of this wonderful journey and for the chance to help, in a very small way, with your efforts to find a cure for multiple myeloma.
Honoring the Man Who Gave His All
Thursday, July 06
I am excited to be returning to Japan for the fifth time in my life, and to be climbing Mount Fuji for the first time. I probably should have done it when I was stationed there in the Navy for two years and was in my 20s. But being able to do it now, when I am 70 – in honor of my brother Bob, who passed away from multiple myeloma, and to help raise money for the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation – is an incredible opportunity.

Japan has been part of my life even before I was born. Following my dad’s service in the Navy where he was stationed in the Pacific, he and tens of thousands of other servicemen got to come home and start their families and their lives. He and my mom had been married in 1943 before he enlisted and I was one of the early arrivals in the “baby boom,” born on Dec. 7, 1946. A few years later my brothers Tom and Bob came along.

Our dad, Burt, was climbing the corporate ladder at International Harvester, so the family dropped anchor briefly in Topeka, Kan. (twice); Marysville, Kan.; Prairie Village, Kan.; St. Joseph, Mo.; Amarillo, Texas (twice); Western Springs, Ill; and Overland Park, Kan. When I was in college in Texas, Dad left IH and started his own business in Osage City, Kan. Our Mom, Margaret, made all of the moves work through a lot of hard work, love and dedication on her own part.

In 1968 after I graduated from college, I enlisted in the Navy. I was delighted in the spring of 1970 to find out during training that I was being sent to Japan for two years. Since then, I have returned in 1979 as a journalist and again in 2002 and 2005 with my wife, Gayle. Every trip has had special moments, thanks to the hospitality of the Japanese people. I don't expect this trip will be any different.

Although each of us brothers made our separate courses in life, living in Kansas, Illinois and Wisconsin, we were always in touch and visiting, attending each family's big events when possible. Our dad died in 1995. More than a decade later, we realized our Mom could no longer handle living on her own in Osage City, so right after Christmas 2009 Bob and I arranged to bring her to Wisconsin, where I could help oversee her care – since I was the only one retired. Even though he was not feeling that well, Bob gave his all to make sure Mom was settled in to her new place. He gave it the same energy that he gave to everything else – his family, his career at Roundtable Healthcare Partners and as a board member of the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation. But just a few days after Christmas 2010 he lost his battle with the disease. It is a privilege to honor the man he was by making this pilgrimage.
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