JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The hike of a lifetime to save lives, that’s the purpose of one organization whose goal is to help find a cure for Multiple Myeloma, an incurable cancer of the blood.
“Moving Mountains for Multiple Myeloma” uses a collaboration of efforts to raise awareness and funds for medical research of the disease.
Groups from all over the world take on challenging mountains like the Grand Canyon, Peru’s Machu Picchu and Mount Kilimanjaro in hopes of raising money, spreading awareness and ultimately just making a difference for the patients for which they are climbing.
Bob McKenna is just one of millions who had no idea what Multiple Myeloma entailed until he discovered “Moving Mountains”. He immediately knew he had to get involved in their audacious climbs for a good cause.
“I had never heard of it, never heard of it. Since then I’ve learned a lot about it, but not enough,” said McKenna.
He went to ask his friend Michele Maharaj, a nurse who conducts clinical studies for cancer research at Jacksonville’s Mayo Clinic, to join him on the endeavor with the organization.
Michele was hesitant at first, especially because he suggested Mount Kilimanjaro, but they eventually agreed on making the trek to the Grand Canyon.
Unfortunately, she would make the trip without Bob.
“I wasn’t able to because I’ve been in therapy for seven years,” said McKenna.
Bob is living with Multiple Myeloma. Maharaj has been his nurse and friends throughout the entire process.
Sadly, cancer is nothing new to his family.
“It was a scary word about 26 years ago when my wife was diagnosed with breast cancer so, we got used to it through that, and after I was treated, you know there’s always hope, we just keep reading and reading about it, we’re both cancer survivors. You just live with that and realize it could be a lot worse,” said McKenna.
He was diagnosed at 70 years old. The cancer only carries a 47% survival rate past five years, but McKenna has surpassed that time limit.
“Seven years ago this August, I’ve been holding my head up since that time.”
The mountain climb isn’t the only thing he’s had to say no to because of the disease.
“I used to have a lot of energy, I’d go out and kayak, then go on a bike ride, then for a long walk. Now when I do just one of those I’m pretty much done for the day.”
Picking up the baton, Majaraj signed up for the hike with a team. Bob was there every step of the way, even if just through email and text.
“He was part of my morale campaign to get out and do my training,” said Maharaj, “He would email me and ask me how many miles we were hiking and how was our training going.”
The training Maharaj and her team had to endure to prepare for the hike was no simple matter. It involved, cardio, heavy weights, medicine balls and long walks with heavy backpacks along the beach.
She says it was all worth it once they arrived to the scenic Grand Canyon.
“It took us about 3 hours to go down into the canyon and about 5 to get back out, with an elevation change of 3800 feet.”
Her husband Vishnu Maharaj joined her for the climb, his heart heavy in his own way.
“After doing some scans they realized he was diagnosed with Multiple Myeloma,” said Vishnu.
His oldest brother found out he had cancer just days after Vishnu agreed to the climb with Michele. The timing was almost unbelievable, but it gave him an even greater reason to make the trip. Fortunately now, after getting help from Michele, his brother is recovering and able to return to work.
“After ten weeks of treatment he was able to walk again,” said Vishnu.
Happy to see his brother on his feet, Vishnu says a weight was lifted off his shoulders, only to be replaced by a 20 pound backpack that he was happy to carry along a grueling eight mile hike in his brother’s honor.
The Maharaj’s team raised $45,000 for Multiple Myeloma research through their Grand Canyon climb. Of that amount, Michele, Vishnu and Bob together raised about $11,500.