Terry White
Terry White

One Mountain Down, Many More to Come
Wednesday, January 18
From the low valleys of despair, to the highs of the mountaintops! That describes my journey down the multiple myeloma highway.
 
April 2009 - April is a month with lots of remembrances. I was born in April, as were two of my brothers, my grandfather and my uncle. My wedding anniversary is April 28. And I was diagnosed with multiple myeloma on April 29. My wife and I spent our 19th wedding anniversary in Seattle at Virginia Mason Medical Center awaiting the results of my first bone marrow biopsy.  
 
You remember small details when your life is on spin cycle. When I made our hotel reservations the night we traveled to Seattle, I mentioned to the employee at the front desk that our anniversary was the next day. When we arrived late that night, we were surprised with a bottle of champagne, flowers and a gift certificate to the hotel restaurant. In fact, there were two bottles of champagne because our friends had contacted the hotel and arranged for a bottle to help us celebrate. The circumstances weren’t conducive for celebrating, but the gestures were very much appreciated.           
 
After numerous appointments with the oncologist and oncological radiologist, various blood tests, an MRI, bone marrow biopsy, and other associated pokes and prods, I had my schedule of treatment: five weeks of radiation to eradicate the grapefruit-sized tumor on my pelvis, monthly infusions, and checkups every three months. I only had a single tumor, so it was diagnosed as a single plasmacytoma and not multiple myeloma. My oncologist thought I would be in good shape after radiation. He stated that he'd seen these situations before, and he recommended that I watch and wait because there was a possibility that it might not progress to multiple myeloma!
 
When faced with these types of medical situations, the least little bit of good news can be such a relief to someone who is already emotionally exhausted and overwhelmed. I was so relieved to hear that I might be done with this mess after five weeks of radiation! I felt euphoric and optimistic, to say the least. Five weeks of radiation, and I'm done! I would be back to my job at Alaska Airlines in Juneau and could begin preparing for the upcoming charter season. In addition to working for the airline, I operate a seasonal fishing/sightseeing business called Juneau Adventures. I was anxious to be able to operate the business during the season.
 
I began radiation in May 2009. When you live in Alaska, you typically travel to Seattle for medical treatment. Insurance doesn’t pay for accommodations when you are receiving treatment out of town, but my radiologist connected me to the American Cancer Society, who had a list of hotels who donated rooms. I was able to stay in some of the nicer hotels in downtown Seattle and take the bus up the hill to Virginia Mason every day.    
 
Seattle is absolutely beautiful in the spring, so if you're going to have medical treatment in Seattle, by all means schedule it in the spring. (Like there is an option, ha!) I was able to schedule my treatment at 8 a.m. every day and take the bus uphill to the hospital.  Then, I would walk back downhill to my hotel. The city is so beautiful with so many attractions; I saw something new every day. I've been traveling there for many years, but was still able to discover new parts of the city.
             
As I was nearing the end of my radiation, the results were looking good, and I finally found the courage to ask my radiologist if he thought I would be able to climb a mountain in Colorado the following month. We had a family vacation scheduled, and my father in law had picked Mt. Bierstadt (14,060 ft) as the summer challenge. The previous year, we climbed Mt. Princeton and had decided that we'd do another in '09. He gave me this look like, "what are you talking about?" I explained that it was a family gig, and I didn't want to have to sick out. He reminded me that I had just had a huge tumor blasted off my pelvis, (like I needed reminding) but he also realized my need to return to a somewhat normal life. He gave me some parameters to adhere to: no running, jumping, or falling, period! I assured him that I had no plans to do the first two and promised to be careful on the third. He then gave me his blessing. Thank you to my doctor for encouraging me to get back on my horse and charge back into living! That has been my constant motto, and I tell that to all the people that I’m connected to on the message boards that I follow. Keep charging forward and keep living!   
 
We all met in Colorado in mid-July. Early in the morning, we met in the parking lot at the beginning of the Mt Bierstadt trail and began our climb. We all have our reasons for doing these kinds of challenges. My challenge took on a different significance after the diagnosis and treatment.  As we closed in on the summit, I had almost run out of gas, and I found out that, sometimes, we just can't do things alone. I was stopped about 250 ft. from the summit and was looking at the top.  I was totally gassed and didn't think that I could go any further.  My youngest son, Andrew, backtracked because he saw me leaning against one of the many boulders on the path.  "Dad,” he said, “you can do this."   I told Andrew that I was just out of gas.  “No, you're not, Dad.  Come on I'll help you the rest of the way!”  
 
Sometimes, you just can't do it alone! The following December, I found my second plasmacytoma and became a member of the multiple myeloma club. I haven’t climbed a mountain since the summer of 2009, but that climb is one of the important events of my post-diagnosis life.  It represented my ability to challenge myself and overcome obstacles at a time that my confidence in life had taken a serious hit.    
 
When we met for our Mt. Kilimanjaro team training climb in July 2016, I was excited to see that we were climbing Mt. Bierstadt. This mountain represented my ability to push myself, continue to live my life as I meant to go on and rely on help from others when I needed energy or encouragement. I believe that this Mt. Kilimanjaro climb will offer our team the same opportunity to push each other, keep charging forward, and lean on each other as we summit the mountain. Mt. Kilimanjaro, here I come!
 
 
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