Bob Dickey has one question: “Where’s your Kilimanjaro?” The multiple myeloma survivor and member of the original Team Moving Mountains for Multiple Myeloma posed that question in the documentary memorializing the 2016 climb of Mount Kilimanjaro. The film, which was screened at the Association of Community Cancer Center’s (ACCC) 2016 National Oncology Conference in St. Louis, features breathtaking pans of the mountain and its summit, as well as intimate insights from the climbers themselves: survivors, patients, doctors, caregivers and supporters. The collaboration started this year between CURE Media Group, Takeda Oncology and the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation (MMRF). Kilimanjaro was the first summit.
Since then, different teams have made the trek through the Grand Canyon South Rim and up Machu Picchu. Over this past year, Moving Mountains for Multiple Myeloma has raised over $500,000 for the MMRF. “You look at cancer and it’s this unbelievable mountain to climb,” said Marty Murphy, director of patient education at CURE and a climber on all three events with Moving Mountains. “We thought if we could find something by itself, unencumbered by anything else, like cancer, that’s the mountain to climb. We chose Kilimanjaro because it is the highest free-standing mountain in the world.” Dickey called multiple myeloma an “orphan cancer.” It’s estimated that there will be a total of about 30,000 new cases of multiple myeloma; that’s not quite 2 percent of all new cancer cases. Survival at five-years, though, is only at about 48 percent. However, the life expectancy over the past few years has tripled. Dickey referenced this, saying, “There’s no reason to throw in the towel. There’s more hope now than ever.” On January 16, 2016, the Moving Mountains group began their ascent to conquer Kilimanjaro and raise money for multiple myeloma research. For Dickey, it was important that this venture not just be about raising awareness. “I’ve got cancer,” Dickey said, with a dry wit. “That’s all the awareness I need.” He wanted something that was more than just a feel-good project, something with some substance to it. The goal for fundraising was $113,000. In the end, the team raised close to $250,000. That overshot of fundraising set the tone for the rest of the climb, according to Dickey. “Everything was more than it should have been,” he said. The climb was harder, longer, colder and wetter than it should have been.
They climbed the 19,341 feet in six and a half days and then made the descent, at march, in just one and a half days. In the documentary, Dickey described the effects of the conditions and climate as “demoralizing.” But it was the inner-mission of the climbers that kept them going. Some were climbing in celebration of their own survival, while others were doing it in support of a loved one. Having an extra purpose kept the team going through all the weather, the exhaustion, every challenge. “I wanted to turn around,” Murphy said. “But I’m next to this multiple myeloma patient and three others, and I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t turn around.” Dickey agreed, “It was complete misery. But, there’s no choice. There’s no options. So you just gotta keep going, you just gotta put that foot in front of the other, and just keep going one at a time, one at a time, one at a time.” That sentiment, those words, can easily be applied to the battle with multiple myeloma, or with any cancer. “No person does this by themselves. You just don’t,” said Dickey of cancer. Climbing Kilimanjaro, too, was a team effort. “We pushed for each other really, really hard. We all wanted to be up at the top. And we wanted everybody else to be up there with us.”
Murphy described the climb as being about hope. “You can still live,” he said. “You still can take today and you can climb whatever that mountain is for you. It doesn’t have to be Kilimanjaro.” This group making it to the top of Kilimanjaro, has inspired other patients with multiple myeloma to keep going – proved in the responses from patients that the group has received, as well as in more and more patients signing up for future events. Whether your Kilimanjaro is climbing a mountain itself or just making it out of bed to get to the mailbox, Dickey promised that you’re your life does not end with a diagnosis of multiple myeloma.