Jeffrey & Silva Zonder
Jeffrey & Silva Zonder

Knocking a Hike Off My Bucket List and More
Monday, October 03
It's been several weeks since our glorious hike at Machu Picchu, and I find my thoughts drifting back to the trip on an almost daily basis. Sometimes it's just recalling funny conversations with others on the trip (does the fact that guinea pig tastes like chicken really justify eating it?), sometimes poignant moments from the hike itself (seeing Machu Picchu for the first time from the Sun Gate; breakfast together at 4:30 a.m. the day of the hike, bundled up for cool temps, reminiscent somehow of the morning I ran the NY marathon to raise money for the MMRF years ago).

Most often, though, it's thinking about the people we met on the trip. Jeff Stiles (a patient with myeloma) and his wife Amy are super people. Fun. Funny. Cindi McNair (a TEN-YEAR myeloma survivor) is tough as nails, and — I felt — spiritual somehow. Grounded. Grateful. Determined. Inspiring.

When patients ask me whether we can somehow adjust their therapy to accommodate a trip or an occasion of some sort, I always say, “We're not treating you so you can remain well enough to come back for your next treatment. We’re doing it so you can live your life.” I almost always tell them to take the trip if they're healthy enough to do it. I, of course, never had a firsthand view of those occasions, those life events or those amazing trips until this one. What an honor and honor it was for Silva and me to be there.

A special thanks goes to JoAnn and Gene Taylor of the Walking Connection for their attention to every detail of the trip —one of those destinations where having pros looking out for us made all the difference in the world — and also to John Waller and Ben Canales of Uncage the Soul Productions and Marty Murphy at CURE magazine for documenting the whole damn thing. I'll credit John and Ben for inspiring me to diet and exercise regularly post-trip, after watching them make the trek with 1,000-pound packs full of camera equipment and also for having the photojournalistic integrity they demonstrated by not photoshopping me to look at least vaguely in shape for the hike. I've lost 12 pounds since the trip. Seriously.

Finally, I've spent a lot of time thinking about "bucket lists." That term came up so many times on the trip and over a dozen times in conversation with people since. Machu Picchu seems to be on a lot of people's bucket list. It was on mine. Honestly, when I heard about the Moving Mountins for Multiple Myeloma program, my exact reaction was: "I can raise research funds for an organization I believe strongly in AND I can knock a major hike off my bucket list while I'm doing it!”

As is often the case, there was a lesson. The ruins looked in real life just like they do in the pictures: amazing and kind of mind-boggling. The journey, though, was what really was most beautiful about the trip. You can't put that in a bucket. I hope I have the chance to see everyone from the trip again in the future (on the trail or a good bar in some distant country, not just on Facebook). Thanks to all of you who made the trip so special for us.

P.S. The answer to the guinea pig question is "yes."
A Common Goal
Wednesday, August 10
As we are sitting in the airport in New York city, a long layover on our way to Peru, I'm continuously checking social media to keep up with the other 18 people accompanying us in this upcoming journey. While scrolling through posts, I see one from one from the wife of one of our patients. Over the years I have come to know her; she has become very dear to me. She had posted a picture of her and her late husband who lost his battle with myeloma several months ago, the picture with the #MM4MM logo added in the corner, and the comment underneath “Wish WE could do the hike, but I am a bad hiker.” Just that picture brought tears to my eyes and filled my heart with sadness. Her husband was a wonderful man who was courageous and never lost his spirit to fight to the end. It was a great reminder that these are the people who we are doing the hike for, this is the disease we are raising funds to fight and find a cure for. This patient and his wife will be on my mind and in my heart when we reach the top of the hike this week. His name, along with others, will be hoisted on a banner when we get there.

I always think about how it must feel to be in these patients' shoes … the more patients I meet, the more amazed I am by the grace and determination many show. I was lucky to have a chance to hike with two patients, Cindi and Jeff, at the Bear Mountain training hike in New York recently. It was amazing to see their determination, strength and — what touched me the most — their gratitude for all we do for our patients. I love seeing the posts from Amy (Jeff's wife) about their children and grandson. I know we are hiking for them and she and Jeff are hiking with the hopes that research funded by the MMRF and others will help Jeff to see their children grow and their grandson go to college. I found it to be very inspiring and it makes me look forward to spending more time with this beautiful couple. When I met Cindi, I felt that we had an immediate connection, like I had known her forever. She is a ten-year survivor who will be hiking with her best friend.

And then there are the families and caregivers. I spent quite some time with Anne and Rob. Anne is honoring her sister who died few years ago from myeloma. Since her passing, Anne and Rob never stopped their commitment to raise funds for the MMRF. They run marathons, hike and do anything else they can to contribute to the mission.

I can't wait to meet the other people in the group. They all seem awesome and all have a common goal: beat this disease, raise funds for research, find better treatments and find a cure! I consider myself very lucky to be part of this group and I am looking forward to an amazing adventurous journey to our common goal.

- Silva
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