The Hardest Decision: Knowing When to Say When!
Thursday, February 04
What an amazing adventure! The hardest thing we've ever done together! Going forward is easy as it's what we do. On my first marathon after my 2011 stem cell transplant I burned 4080 calories for 26.2 miles. There were three days on the climb that I burned mid 4400s and the most was 5200! I lost approximately 15 lbs by end of climb. I'm still down 10 from when we left for trip. We were both so strong everyday until that last night before summit. Ramona's temperature shot to 102.4 — so unfair — but after it came down, she still gave it a shot to start the ascent at 11:00 p.m. It was difficult to give her a kiss 2,000 feet later at 17,200 feet as she turned around exhausted at 03:30 a.m. to climb back down to camp in the dark. She said, “Go get ‘em, babe!" Going forward was easy. It was for both of us!

Little did I know that a surprise was waiting for me at a little over 18,000 feet. Still feeling strong, I started to see halos around the headlamps in front of me. I was only 600 to 700 feet from Stella Point, a summit of Kili, but not the very top at Uhuru Peak (19,341 feet). I thought my glasses were fogging in the 27-degree temperature and 30 to 40 mph winds blowing, but as I removed them I realized it was my eyes that were foggy. Soon, I could barely see my surroundings in the dark and as I described this to one of the guides, I realized I was done. There would be no more forward.

I have been using eye drops to control my inner ocular eye pressure, which had been high since last June when I resumed my high dose of Revlimed and dexamethasone when my myeloma returned. But high altitude has reduced external air pressure, enhancing the outward pressure of my eyes and impinging on the optic nerve. Bingo! High altitude blindness. If I continued, I was afraid I could cause permanent damage to my eyes. I couldn't let my pride of getting to the summit risk my eyesight. I asked my guide Michael how long it would take to get back to camp and he said normally about 2 1/2 hours but for us it would be longer. It took 5 hours to get back to camp, 1 1/2 hrs in the dark before sunrise. Michael said it was beautiful but I could only sense a pink hue around me as if I was shrouded in a super dense fog. It was literally a single step at a time, most of it holding Michael's arm while he placed my trekking pole deliberately so I could avoid the rocks and boulders along the trail. We fell a few times as I would slip and take him with me to the ground. It was a very humbling — and terrifying — experience to lose such an important sense!

When we stumbled into camp I could Hear Mo's voice from inside the tent as we approached, she excitedly said, "Jeff, is that you? Wow that was fast! We didn't expect you for awhile.”

I answered slowly, choking back the tears, "I didn't make it, I lost my vision above 18,000 feet and Michael brought me back. I'm sorry I didn't make it!"

I felt the responsibility of carrying "our" flag to the summit for both of us and I had failed … or so I thought.

It has taken over a week to reconcile that this is the first finish line I've never crossed. After 30 years of marathons, long distance sailboat races and treks with Ramona all over the Rockies, I/we always crossed the finish line. After getting myeloma and surviving two stem cell transplants, I crossed those finish lines. I resumed running marathons and hiking canyons and crossed those finish lines. This was unchartered territory for my heart and brain.

So now I've finally come to terms with the success of our journey together and not just the rocky destination with a sign we sought. I'm so proud of the money Mo and I raised for MMRF research and the group effort of our team, almost $250,000. Some day it will mean a cure for me and others!

I'm so blessed to have Ramona as my wife and best friend. Her courage is amazing and she has made my cancer recovery and our shared adventure filled lives possible.

Ramona, thank you so much for being my adventure partner in our lives and on this recent epic adventure to the top of Africa.

I can't wait for our next chapter.

I love you so much,
Trying to Stay Dry
Wednesday, January 20

We had an easier trek today from Shira camp 1. It was a 4 1/2-mile hike across the expansive Shira Plateau with very different vegetation like high deserts and some very cool stream crossings, which reminded me of some trout streams out west. Unfortunately, I was told that they are sterile — fish don't live up here at 12,000 feet. It started raining at the three-mile break and just poured all the way into camp. It was raining so hard they couldn't set up all they tents.

We went into the mess tent and had lunch and as we finished the rain subsided. Now it was time to shake out the gear and try to dry things out. Of course, the rain wasn't done. A cat and mouse game ensued three or four times as the sun left and the rain began, causing us to scramble to get clothes plucked off the lines.

We relaxed as we set up our sleeping pads and changed out of wet clothes. We rigged a line above the small gear pouches and hung our important items. Staying dry at the start of a hike is crucial especially as you get higher and colder!

After medical checks, we had another yummy dinner starting with zucchini soup with cavatappi pasta with beef bolognese sauce and vegetables. Then, we had our briefing from Freddie Chikima, our wonderful head guide! When I got back to the tent I noticed it was 41 degrees!

I did get a chance to call my dad on a sat phone for his 80th birthday and of course it went to voicemail but Ramona and I sang anyway!

Happy birthday, I love you, Dad! I'm sorry I missed the party but I have a really good excuse — I’m climbing Kilimanjaro!
A little over five years ago in 2010, a week before my 50th birthday, I was given a gift that nobody ever asks for — the gift of a cancer diagnosis. It was a shocking event for me and my wife, Ramona, to grasp. We began the journey by educating ourselves and then fully committing to the course of treatment established by the fabulous team at the Lurie Cancer Center, headed by Dr. Seema Singhal. A summer of weekly chemo treatments was followed by a stem cell harvest, a stem cell transplant and a second transplant in March 2011. Stem cell transplants are a miracle of modern medicine and will hopefully someday be available for all forms of cancer treatment. I responded well and in August 2011 was declared to be in "maintenance remission" (not a true remission like other types of cancers, but close).

I had already begun to train for the Chicago Marathon in October by doing a Grand Canyon hike in September and was able to finish the Chicago race in just under six hours. It was my 10th Chicago Marathon finish and my slowest by almost two hours, but it was the most satisfying race of my life. It was so gratifying because I had run as a part of the MMRF endurance team, a group of over 60 runners raising money for the MMRF. I‘ve raised money for many worthy organizations in my life, but none with a more personal connection. I was figuratively running for my life.

Now, five years later, I‘ve run several major races to raise money for MMRF including two Chicago Marathons, The New York City Marathon, Big Sur Half Marathon and a couple of 5Ks for good measure. I‘ve been blessed to be joined in these races by two of my amazing brothers, David and Brad Goad. They‘ve been the ultimate support structure on race course while my wife was the ultimate ground crew and welcome hug at the finish line.

What most interested me about climbing Kilimanjaro was the opportunity for my wife to join me on a trek to the top of that mountain! She will finally have the chance to join me out on the "race course" after five years of watching and cheering from the sidelines. We have enjoyed and conquered hundreds of miles of hiking and backpacking in the mountains out west in the past 16 years, including a very memorable rim-to-rim hike of the Grand Canyon last summer. She was tough as nails on the trails and really earned her “bad ass badge” in a hairy situation that certainly saved me from a helicopter trip out of the bottom of the canyon — something you never want! There is no one I‘d rather summit this magical mountain with than my amazing wife! This, paired with the opportunity to raise awareness and research money for MMRF, made the decision a no-brainer. 

Over the past five years, my life has been about stretching my boundaries and reducing the limitations that this cancer has brought to my life. I look forward to the shared experience of a team trek and the bonds that are created as a result of that challenging experience. This is also part of a lifelong dream adventure I first discovered in 4th grade when I did a school report on going to the Serengeti and climbing Mount Kilimanjaro. 

Now, 45 years later, I can‘t wait to see the view from the top! 

- Jeff
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