Moving mountains for myeloma

Climb benefitted cancer research

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Mount Kilimanjaro facts

Mount Kilimanjaro is located in the Eastern Rift mountain range in east Africa. At 19,336 feet, the dormant volcano is the highest peak on the African continent as well as the tallest free-standing mountain in the world.

Kilimanjaro is one of the world's most accessible high summits, which makes it popular with visitors from around the world. Most climbers reach the crater rim with little more than a walking stick, proper clothing and determination. Those who reach Uhuru Point, the actual summit, or Gillman's Point on the lip of the crater, often battle high winds and frigid temperatures to do so.

The ascent of the slopes is described as "a virtual climatic world tour, from the tropics to the Artic," and temperatures range from the mid 80s to subzero, depending on elevation. The lower elevation includes a forest inhabited by elephant, leopard, buffalo, the endangered Abbot's duiker, and other small antelope. The higher elevation is described as a "winter wonderland of snow and ice."

Source: www.tanzaniaparks.com

When Julie Ryan’s mother, Linda Robertson, was diagnosed with a rare and incurable blood cancer, she endured countless treatments in order to prolong her life.

“She’s a tough old bird,” said Ryan, a Camas resident. “If you look at her, you wouldn’t know she has cancer, but she has been through a lot in the last 14 years.”

So when the opportunity arose for Julie and her twin sister, Jana Cannon, to attempt a climb of Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, Africa, to raise money for multiple myeloma, she didn’t hesitate.

“We have both been active in the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation for years, and have done numerous half marathons and other smaller events,” Ryan said. “This is their big, crazy trip and as soon as we were made aware of it, we applied.”

Preparing to summit a 19,341 foot mountain, with little prior climbing experience, is no easy task. In addition to the training and gear climbers needed to bring, they were also required to raise $10,000 each.

“The fundraising portion was the most difficult for me, but my twin is really big with social media, so that helped out a lot,” Ryan said. “We ended up raising $25,000.”

The 45-year-old stays active with walking and swimming, but switched up her training with long hikes in the gorge carrying a weighted pack. She also went to an altitude training gym in Portland and used the stair climber in an environment simulating 14,000 feet.

“That really helped give me confidence that at least I could make it that far,” she said. “Plus, I don’t quit after I start something.”

Committing to the climb also meant Ryan would be away from her husband and children, ages 9 and 11, for more than two weeks.

“But it was good for my twin and I to be able to spend that kind of time together, away from everything,” she said.

After arriving in Moshi, near Mount Kilimanjaro, Ryan and the other 14 climbers discovered that their planned route up the mountain was being changed to the longer trek, due to falling rocks on the path.

“It was more challenging but beautiful and very diverse,” she said. “I expected it to be this rocky path up a mountain, but we went through valleys, rivers and a rainforest.” The trek itself took 11 days and featured wildly varying temperatures and high winds, in addition to unique and beautiful scenery. Out of the 15 climbers, 11 of them made the summit at Uhuru Peak. The others could not due to altitude sickness

Ryan describe the trek as extremely challenging, especially on summit night, when she was stricken with bad altitude sickness and battled subzero temperatures and winds during the effort to scale the mountain by sunrise.

“The whole time, I was constantly worried if my body was going to fail me,” she said. “If I had not made it to the top, it would have been devastating. I am thankful to my body for getting me there.”

Despite all of the challenges, reaching the summit was a thrilling experience.

“I loved every day and night until we got to summit night,” Ryan said. “I have never been so cold in my life or felt so sick. But overall, it was a fantastic adventure and we bonded really closely as a group.”

The team, which called itself, “Team Moving Mountains for Multiple Myeloma,” included patients, doctors, caregivers and supporters. Together, they raised more than $150,000 to help the MMRF foundation discover new treatment approaches to extend the lives of myeloma patients.

“This was ground breaking in that it was such a collaborative approach because of everyone involved,” Ryan said. “It was such an emotional, fulfilling journey.”

During the climb, the group was followed by a film crew from Portland, who are doing a documentary on the foundation and its efforts.

“Part of the idea behind filming it is that it provides for those patients who have diagnosed a look at what can be,” Ryan said. “The message is that life is not over. This is a terminal cancer, but the number of drugs now to combat it is unheard of compared to other cancers.”

Ryan isn’t planning any more climbs as of yet, but will always remember what an adventure she had at Kilimanjaro.

“It was an emotional, confidence boosting, reinvigorating journey,” she said.

For more information about MMRF, visit www.themmrf.org.

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