Mark Herkert
Mark Herkert

Found the Silver Lining: How Cancer Enhanced My Time
Friday, February 03
My myeloma recently became resistant to a chemo drug I had been on for two-and-a-half years. I am now test driving a different treatment – the latest in a long line of drugs I’ve taken over the past six-and-a-half years. The wrinkle with this treatment is that it requires regular, long infusions, greatly curtailing my free time. I have experienced fatigue, and it has impacted my workouts. It feels like my wings are clipped.
 
Myeloma is a funny cancer (can I can use funny and cancer together?). There are periods of stability where, to all outward appearances, you seem normal – no hair loss and often no appreciable side effects. Yet always lurking in the background is its incurable nature – these respites are but temporary, a calm in the eye of the hurricane. Eventually, myeloma adopts to whatever you throw at it, and then, it’s back to the drawing board. Hopefully your myeloma doesn’t progress faster than the medical researchers can develop new drugs. It’s basically an arms race.
 
During my first year of myeloma I had two stem cell transplants, and it was not at all clear whether I would beat my cancer into temporary submission. During this tenuous time, I was able to leverage this uncertainty (will he live another year or won’t he?) with bold requests of friends and family. Feeling badly about my situation, they all acquiesced, and I made a lot of progress on my bucket list.
 
Now that my health has improved and I am running circles around my non-cancer cohorts, my power has diminished. It’s hard to feel sorry for someone who is preparing to climb Mt Kilimanjaro and participate in his third consecutive Olympic distance triathlon in Hawaii. Yet the basic fact remains – I have an incurable cancer.  The juxtaposition of this with my fitness level is confusing. The two should be mutually exclusive, but somehow they exist side by side.

So this is my challenge – how to rally people to help support a cure when I appear to be cured. Salespeople know the value of creating a deadline (three days left! They’re going quickly!) through tension.  Maintaining this sense of urgency – both personally (the never-ending and often expanding bucket list!) and as a fundraiser – can be stimulated by events beyond our control. The silver lining of my wrestling match with treatment may be to help those around me realize that my cancer struggles continue. If this reinvigorates my fundraising efforts, then I honestly can’t complain too much about my new treatment. As they say, a blessing in disguise.
 
Kilimanjaro: My "Survivor" Moment
Tuesday, January 24
I have been a big fan of the TV show “Survivor” since season 1, episode 1. I was fascinated by the human dynamics: a group of strangers on a deserted island, left to deal with the elements, needing to rely on each other while competing for a zero-sum prize. The tension between the mutually exclusive goals made for some great viewing, and I wanted to be part of it.
 
I applied twice to be on the show and submitted accompanying videos, one with my wife filming me up in a tall tree in our backyard, and another with my cat Pumpkin as I voted him off the “tribe.” My neighbors and I thought for sure we had a hit with the cat video, but I guess you had to know Pumpkin to appreciate it. Needless to say I never got a casting call.
 
As a longtime Outward Bound instructor, I have seen groups of strangers come together under stressful conditions to achieve more than they thought they were capable of. I believe most people are not aware of their limits and often don’t have the means to test them. But, when subject to these character building tests, people rise to the occasion, which increases their confidence and self-esteem. It’s a beautiful and powerful process to be a part of.
 
Mt. Kilimanjaro will be a test for our group of 16 “strangers.” How will we support each other? Will we work together as a group or focus on our individual accomplishments? How will we deal with the physical stress of altitude, the side effects of chemo, of missing our loved ones, of sleeping outside for eight days, of being in close proximity to a large group with little privacy and alone time? Will we rise to these challenges and emerge better people? I hope I can bring a selfless attitude that puts the welfare of my teammates first and that my stress level does not negatively affect the group. These are goals, not guarantees. Stay tuned!
 
Mt. Kilimanjoro will be my “Survivor” moment, minus the cutthroat nature of the game. I was chosen for the team because I have risen to the challenge of myeloma and achieved more than I ever imagined. Between participating in triathlons and running half and full marathons, I am in the best shape of my life. I will shortly go over the $100,000 mark in fundraising for blood cancers in less than three years. I have risen to the challenge and am better off for it. I will continue to seek challenges that push my limits and increase my confidence. 
 
Though to be sure, I haven’t given up on the real thing. I plan on filming a short video atop Kilimanjaro to submit to ‘Survivor’. What could be more inspirational? Here’s hoping the third time applying is a charm!
 
 
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