Matt Goldman
Matt Goldman

Back to Reality
Friday, March 17
It’s been a few weeks since I returned home from the trip of a lifetime. Since returning from Kilimanjaro, I’ve done my routine blood work, visited with my doctor, had my chemo and started addressing the dozens of emails waiting for me at work. I’m still in the adjustment period.

Our Kilimanjaro trip had been in the planning stages for about a year. As a team, we raised a quarter of a million dollars to help the MMRF find a cure for multiple myeloma. As a team, over eight days on the mountain, we bonded and created lifelong friendships. And hopefully as a team, we showed that life can go on, even after a cancer diagnosis.

For me being home is a bit surreal. Just a few weeks ago we were in Africa, climbing a mountain. I miss the morning coffee with my friends and teammates. I miss the tired feeling after a good days hike. Now I need to organize my photos and thoughts and update folks at home on the adventure. While doing fundraising and now that I’m home, I received and continue to receive amazing and supportive messages. It’s touching and motivating. Now I guess the challenge is what’s next.
Step One - Climb a Mountain
Tuesday, February 14
I’m just a couple of days away from getting on a plane and flying to Africa to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro. I’m pretty darn excited. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity and represents how far I have come since being diagnosed in 2011. I’ve been so focused on training and getting everything I need for the trip, that I haven’t really stopped to think about what I’m about to do. But with departure just days away, I can feel the emotions building. This is a big deal. 

As I’ve told people over the past few days, I’m 90% excited and 10% nervous. We’ve been planning this trip for months and it seemed so far away. But here it is. I’ve trained, fought off any doubt or worry that creeped into my head, and I’m ready, mentally and hopefully physically. Several people have told me to take each day as it comes and embrace the newness of each day. That’s also part of the challenge of myeloma. You need to appreciate each day and try not to get paralyzed by the fear of having an incurable cancer. At the same time you need a treatment plan and you want to try and live your life as if everything is normal. It’s a balancing act and it’s not always possible if you’re feeling fatigued or sick or low on energy. I started a new treatment regimen just a few months ago and I’m fortunate that it’s working great. But I know it can change at any time.

This past weekend I was running around town getting last minute items for the trip. I was talking to a friend and I realized that while I see this climb as a stand-alone accomplishment and a once in a lifetime opportunity, I also see it as Day 1 of the next stage in my life. I’ve been dealing with myeloma for almost six years. Life has gone back to being fairly normal, a new normal but normal. Although I’m not sure I’m ok with that. I’m hoping to have some sort of epiphany or moment of clarity over the next two weeks.  I’d like to know what is next for me. My excitement and anticipation for this trip is magnified because it is a bit of a stepping stone for me.

Yes I plan to enjoy every day of this journey. I’ve met amazing people and am looking forward to getting to know them better over the next two weeks. As a team we’ve raised almost a quarter of a million dollars to help support the MMRF and their mission of accelerating the development of next generation multiple myeloma treatments to extend patients’ lives, and eventually lead to a cure. This is the most important thing. I’m fortunate that I’m able to make this climb and able to raise money to help find a cure. Then throw in the added personal significance of this journey and I can’t even accurately put into words how I am feeling.
I’ve received tons of encouragement and support throughout this process. This support has made me stronger and more determined to conquer this challenge. I am ready to go. Focusing on work or anything else is pretty difficult right now. In the words of Alan Shepard as he waited for his Mercury rocket to launch 50 years ago, “Let’s light this candle.”
7 Ways Climbing a Mountain Is Like Battling Cancer
Monday, January 30
I’ve been thinking a lot about how climbing a mountain is like battling cancer. Each stands alone as a challenge. If I had my preference, I’d only be climbing a mountain. But like five of my fellow Kilimanjaro climbers, we’re doing both. To add to this, I recently became refractory to my maintenance treatment that I’d been doing for over two years. This means that just before Kilimanjaro, I’ve had to switch to a heavier chemo regimen. I’d be lying if I said the change didn’t make me question both my cancer recovery and making the climb. But I’m focused on both and confident that I’ll succeed.
1) Teamwork – This is a no-brainer. You can’t climb a mountain or battle cancer alone. It takes a team of people you trust and who understand your needs and goals. With cancer, I have my wife, family, friends, doctors and nurses, fellow patients, and even my dog. As I train for Kilimanjaro, I have friends who I hike and train with, who know that I have good days and bad days, but they get it and keep me going and adjust to my pace. For climbing a mountain, I have the same team motivating me to train that I have helping me fight cancer. And you can add to this my fellow climbers, all who have been touched by myeloma in some way. We have our guides and team leaders who have the experience to ensure we make it to the peak just like my doctors who are myeloma experts and know what it takes to keep me healthy.
2) Staying calm – I knew that eventually I’d have to switch my treatment. This is something most myeloma patients face. It’s usually a question of when, not if. But all you can do is pick a treatment path and go for it. Be satisfied that you’ve made a good decision. I see Kilimanjaro the same way. It’s something I have to do, it’s not even a question of should I do it. All I can do at this point is modify my training and keep in mind the goal. For both fighting cancer and climbing a mountain, I have to stay calm and simply do my best. I can worry but I can’t get too worried. I try to believe in my choices.
3) Focus – My cancer diagnosis has taught me to focus and compartmentalize in a way I couldn’t do pre-diagnosis. When it’s time for chemo or time to recover from treatment, that’s my focus. When I’m on a hike or working out, that’s my focus. For hiking, it’s one step at a time. I don’t think about the entire mountain, that can be too overwhelming. I just worry about getting one foot in front of the other – makes things less onerous. The same goes with fighting cancer. I basically operate on a weekly or monthly basis. I can’t think about six months from now or a year. This would drive me nuts. Nobody knows how I will be feeling next year. So, I focus on the task at hand. Get through each day and I then have another day to improve.
4) Visualize – When I’m getting treatment, I try to visualize the drugs attacking the myeloma straight on, killing the cancer cells. I try my best to keep the negative thoughts away. When the Kilimanjaro team met in Colorado in July, there were a couple of moments I wasn’t sure I could make it to the peak. But I’d close my eyes and visualize going just another 10 feet – baby steps. It kept me moving and got me to the top. Visualize small achievable goals and build off of them.
5) Disappointment – I’ll never be in the shape that I once was. Not only do I have myeloma, but I’m also getting older. While training for Kilimanjaro, there are moments when I get pretty frustrated. I get out of breath, my legs get crampy, my body hurts. It can be pretty disheartening. Same with cancer, especially of late. I’ve been very anemic and super tired. There are moments that I think how much this sucks. But I think it’s okay to feel this way. You have to embrace the emotions. It makes the successes that much sweeter. I’m not going to fly up any mountains. I need naps and can’t stay awake past 8 p.m. any more. I don’t like it, but I roll with these changes, and eventually, I put my big boy pants on and suck it up. When I start a new treatment regimen, I literally put my big boy pants on. I’m a shorts person and not a fan of long pants. But when dealing with something serious, I’ll put on long pants just to play a mental game with myself. “Fight like a grown up,” I tell myself. And climb a mountain like a grown up. Slow and steady. The disappointment eventually gets tucked away.
6)  Be positive – Cancer. Kilimanjaro. I’m confident that I can conquer both. I have to think this way. I know myself better than anyone else, and I know my limits. I’m confident in my abilities. When I was first notified that I was accepted onto the Kilimanjaro team, my first response was, “oh geez, what have I signed up for.” When I was diagnosed with myeloma in 2011, my first response was, “you have to be kidding me,” and, “what’d I do to deserve this.” It’s quite an emotional roller coaster. But with climbing a mountain and fighting cancer, you have to have confidence and be positive. Without these, both things are much more difficult.
7) Enjoy the ride – This is a tough one. But no matter the outcome of my battle with myeloma or climbing a mountain, this has been a heck of a journey. I’ve met incredible people who I never would have known before. Little things bring me pleasure like never before. I’m more proud of myself than I ever was before both these journeys began. Right after my diagnosis, a cancer coach at my local hospital told me that some day, I’d view cancer as a gift. I laughed at that thought. But it’s true. I’m a better person, I appreciate life more and I’m more enthused by minor and major accomplishments. I’m still here and I’m about to climb a mountain with amazing people. What more can I ask for? It’s a heck of a ride. I better enjoy it – I have no choice.
So here we are. Climbing a mountain. Battling cancer. Two distinct challenges. But they go together and each helps me deal with the other more positively. One step at a time.
Staying Active in the Fight Against Cancer
Tuesday, November 22
I was diagnosed with Multiple Myeloma on May 2, 2011. That was the first time I had even heard of the blood cancer. I started chemo the very next day. Five and a half years later, I’ve done chemo nonstop. I’ve become refractory twice and am now on my 5th drug regimen. But I am fortunate that I feel good enough to climb the highest freestanding peak in the world, Mt. Kilimanjaro at 19,308 feet. That’s not to say it won’t be a challenge and likely the most difficult thing I’ve ever done. But it’s worth it for me personally and is an opportunity to raise funds and awareness to help find a cure for this currently incurable disease.
I started feeling not well two or three months before my diagnosis. I was having horrible fatigue, nightly fevers and night sweats. Before this, I really never got sick. I was always pretty healthy. Sure I’d have a cold now and again, but that was the extent of it. Prior to my diagnosis, I rode my bike to my work every day. It was a 10 miles trip each way. I noticed in early 2011, that I was getting overly winded on my normal ride. I wasn’t able to get a deep breath. I assumed I had some sort of bug and would simply ride it out. But the fatigue and lack of energy got worse, followed by the fevers and night sweats. I tried to rationalize things by telling myself I was getting older and out of shape. It was a frustrating feeling. Eventually I was hospitalized because I was so anemic and the myeloma was identified.
Most of my adult life, I’ve been active. Hiking, running, and cycling have always been part of my life. As I started to feel sick, I had to park my bike, I just didn’t have energy to ride. Eventually even driving tired me out. Some days just keeping my eyes open was a huge challenge. In some respects the cancer diagnosis was a welcome piece of news. Welcome in that the mystery of why I felt poorly was solved.
After the diagnosis, I cancelled my gym membership and with the help of friends built a simple home gym in my garage. I wanted to keep some semblance of fitness, but it took a couple of years before I felt like I could actually get back on my bike. It took those two years for us to get control of the myeloma. Eventually I started riding to work again. Making the commute on bike allowed me to feel and believe that I was going to be alright in the fight against myeloma. Since then I’ve done a 10k and a couple of other events that test my fitness and health, keep me motivated and raise money in the fight against blood cancers. Having a goal or target in mind is very important to me. Without a goal, the physical and mental challenges of myeloma might become overwhelming.
As the date of the climb approaches, I need to pick up my training. I don’t want to simply make it to the top of the mountain. I want to arrive feeling energetic and powerful. At the peak I want to cry tears of joy, not tears of pain. A myeloma diagnosis creates a new normal. My new normal includes working, doctor appointments, lab work and chemo. Sleep is at a premium for me. But I need to make time to train. Hiking, riding my bikes and walking my dog with a 25-pound pack on my back should all contribute to my readiness. Fortunately, I am climbing Kilimanjaro with an amazing team and great group of people, who keep my motivated and focused.  Successfully climbing Kilimanjaro will represent a huge step in fight to not just live with myeloma, but to thrive.
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