Kathleen Kauffman
Kathleen Kauffman

Reflections on a Birthday in the Grand Canyon
Friday, May 12
Thoughts and emotions are swirling around inside me, much like the rotor blades of the sightseeing helicopters circling over the Grand Canyon. The Moving Mountains for Multiple Myeloma hike was one of the most empowering, inspiring, challenging and meaningful experiences of my life. This jumble of feelings and reflections will take a while to “gel.” Meanwhile, here is what I do know:
 
Empowering. I know that the Grand Canyon trek empowered me. I hiked on the Bright Angel Trail when, exactly one year earlier, I laid in a hospital bed wondering what the future held. Was there really hope? The answer is a strong YES!
 
I stepped outside of my comfort zone to join the Moving Mountains for Multiple Myeloma team and found more strength than I thought I had. I gained physical strength by training for the hike. I raised over $10,000 for the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation (MMRF)! My family and friends were thrilled to support me by donating to the MMRF, and I was floored by the number of people that sent messages cheering me on. I received donations from the church women’s group in my childhood hometown, even though I have not lived there for over 30 years.
 
What a joy to know I am empowered to do much more than I thought. I plan to use this newly found empowerment to do more — all it takes is reaching out to others. 
 
Inspiring. I know the inspiration I received from the 2017 Grand Canyon Moving Mountains for Multiple Myeloma team lifted me up at a time when I needed it most.
 
Everyone has a story. The team members shared theirs — promises to and love for parents with myeloma; patients going up and down mountains every day on the myeloma journey; researchers working their tails off to continue to develop myeloma drugs that improve our lives; and, the dedication of the MMRF staff to relentlessly pursue funds to support research and resources that allow patients with myeloma to enjoy their life and LIVE!    
 
Challenging. I know this hike was a real challenge for me. About a month ago, after I signed up and was training for the hike, I relapsed and started different medications that impacted my agility and balance.
 
Then, the day prior to the hike, I had a whopper of a nose bleed (no doubt caused by the high elevation and dry air). Would I be able to do the hike? This is when the amazing dedication and support of the Moving Mountains for Multiple Myeloma team kicked in. The hiking guides and MMRF leadership adjusted their plans to add a shorter hike at a slower pace. And, another member of the team accompanied me on the hike at my tortoise-like pace.
 
My husband encouraged me to go for it. What generosity! So, with their assistance, I met the challenge and hiked the Bright Angel Trail.
 
I am so used to meeting challenges by being the best or at least close to the top. But, I’m learning that the real challenge with myeloma is to live life to the fullest every single day. Hiking the Bright Angel Trail is one of the biggest challenges and biggest “wins” of my life.     
 
Meaningful. I know I experienced many meaningful moments throughout the weekend. One stands out — I celebrated my 55th birthday watching the majestic sunrise over the Grand Canyon in the company of my new friends. The grandeur, beauty and stillness of the Canyon was overwhelming.
 
God’s creations are amazing and put things in perspective. Yes, I have multiple myeloma. It is a challenging journey, but it is also quite a meaningful one. I live one day at a time soaking up the beauty all around us. I have deeper and more meaningful relationships with God, family and friends. I am more aware of peoples’ stories and the value of listening.
 
As I turn 55, I hope to continue growing by reaching out to others and making the most of every day.   
 
I am honored to be a member of the 2017 Moving Mountains for Multiple Myeloma Grand Canyon team. The entire experience is the best birthday present I have ever received. I want to say thank you to the MMRF and my team members.
 
For those myeloma patients, caregivers, scientists or anyone else involved in the multiple myeloma world and considering whether to apply for Moving Mountains For Myeloma programs, DO IT! Take it from someone who finally took a step outside the box after 55 years. It is so worth it.
 
‚ÄčA Birthday to Remember
Wednesday, April 19
Grand Canyon — here we come! I am so psyched to be part of the Moving Mountains for Multiple Myeloma Team conquering the Canyon. And, to make it even sweeter, I am celebrating my 55th birthday while I am there. I get to start my birthday by watching the sun rise over the Grand Canyon. I get chills just thinking about it!
 
I knew this trip was for me as soon as I read about it. I am going into my fourth year of living with multiple myeloma. Notice I said "living." Not dying, suffering or tolerating — I am LIVING!  
 
Multiple myeloma sucks. As a former control freak, it was hard for me to adjust. But, with God as my source of strength and the great new drugs for myeloma, I am living a wonderful and full life.
 
Right now, I am busy training for the hike. I love walking the hills in our neighborhood and parks in Birmingham. Sam, my black lab, comes with me — I don't know who pants more, me or Sam! When I turned 50 (pre-myeloma), I ran a half marathon. For 55, I will be hiking the Grand Canyon. Although the Grand Canyon is, by far, the most challenging, it is also the most rewarding. Bring it on!
 
My husband and brother are coming to cheer me on and make sure I blow out all the candles on my cake. I can't wait to see the sun rise over the Grand Canyon on my 55th birthday. There is always a new day. What a fabulous birthday gift! 
From Health Care Lawyer to Patient
Monday, April 10
How many times do we rush around ticking off our list of "to-dos" while barely noticing the world around us? Working as a legal counsel for a large academic medical center, I scurried from one meeting to the next, passing patients sitting in waiting areas with their wheelchairs, oxygen tanks and walkers. Most times, I barely noticed, focusing instead on my Blackberry. It never occurred to me I would soon be joining them. The world looks very different as a patient than it does as a lawyer.  
 
Let's take consent forms — lawyers love them, patients do not. When I went for my first chemo treatment, the nurse ushered my husband and me into her small office and handed us a stack of paper solemnly telling us we had to certify that we would not get pregnant because of possible harm to the baby. Given that we were 60 and 51 with five grandchildren, we smiled and quickly assured her that would not be a problem! I flipped through the five page consent form, cringing when I thought of all the times that I had added language to these forms when I was in the lawyer’s position; it can't hurt, I had thought. Wrong!
 
As a lawyer, I perceived patients as fragile. Wrong again! Myeloma patients are some of the strongest people I know. I remember walking through the stem cell transplant unit with the medical director one day at work, seeing patients walking down the hall, clutching their IV pole with a determined look on their faces. I had wondered what kept them going.  
 
Now I know. We are warriors. It takes tremendous strength, both outer and inner, to live with myeloma. What keeps me going? Hearing my husband say "I love you" first thing every morning and last thing at night, hugging my grandchildren, walking my dog, Sam, and laughing as he rolls in the grass, watching the cardinals and blue jays square off at the bird feeder, tutoring children from inner-city schools and preparing for a hike in the Grand Canyon!  
 
From health care lawyer to patient — not something I would have chosen. However, the change in perspective is amazing. I have transitioned from the busy world of Blackberry’s, meetings and computer screens to living for the moment and taking time to notice the hundreds of "little" things that previously passed me by. Not a bad trade-off.  
Interested in multiple myeloma updates from CURE®? Sign up for our newsletter!

Partners
Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation

View our interviews with climber Chuck Wakefield