Next Up for ‘Moving Mountains for Multiple Myeloma’ — Patagonia

Mary Chapman avatar

by Mary Chapman |

Share this article:

Share article via email
Patagonia trip

With the goal of encouraging the multiple myeloma community while raising money to advance treatmentsMoving Mountains for Multiple Myeloma (MM4MM) is gearing up for its next expedition — Patagonia.

The Nov. 9–19 excursion will take participants across the picturesque, but often-rugged, terrain of the region at the southern end of South America that’s shared by Argentina and Chile. It’s expected to include a team of 13, including physicians, individuals from organizing partners, and four survivors and family members and caregivers.

The MM4MM initiative is a collaboration of the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation (MMRF), CURE Media Group, and the biopharmaceutical company Celgene.

“As a patient-founded organization, the MMRF stands together with those who are battling multiple myeloma — patients, families, physicians, researchers and our pharmaceutical partners,” Paul Giusti, MMRF CEO, said in a press release. “We are thrilled to enter the fifth year of this inspiring program and to have Celgene join us in this effort to raise awareness and critical funds to continue our mission.”

The Patagonia landscape will include glaciers, deep valleys, and demanding peaks, including the massive Mount Fitz Roy — elevation 11,020 feet and a face 6,000 feet wide. The team will travel through El Chalten, an Argentinian village, and proceed to Lago San Martin, a huge glacier-fed lake. Team members will traverse the surrounding terrain daily, ascending to a condor rookery and reaching remote Andean lakes.

Multiple myeloma patients participating in the journey include:

  • Michael Mankowich, a former collegiate wrestler and all-around “tough guy” who had attributed his back problems to old wrestling injuries. After inconclusive visits to two chiropractors, a physician and an X-ray technician, he turned to a spinal cord specialist who ultimately diagnosed him with myeloma in 2017. With the help of family and Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, Mankowich is successfully managing the disease day-to-day.
  • Terry White had been in “indescribable” pain for some time prior to his 2009 diagnosis, which ultimately came about when an MRI scan revealed a grapefruit-size tumor on his pelvic bone. Just five weeks after completion of his first round of radiation, he climbed with the MMRF up Colorado’s Mount Democrat.
  • Seeking answers for ongoing back pain, weight loss and skin and stomach problems, Michelle Carlberg was diagnosed in 2016. After treatment, she had a stem cell transplant. About three months later,  doctors learned her disease was more aggressive than originally thought. In 2017, she was treated again and went into remission in 2019. This year brought great news: Carlberg achieved a minimal residual disease-negative status.
  • While living with the disease for nearly six years has been challenging, Carmelo Echevarria Colon III attributes his success to a positive mindset and his care team at Duke University Hospital. It’s his upbeat attitude that motivates him to participate in the hike with MM4M.

Since its first trip in 2016, the initiative has included 51 patients on seven adventures, raising more than $2.7 million. All funds go to the MMRF to help speed development of new treatment options. The first MM4MM adventure was a Kilimanjaro climb, followed by the Grand Canyon, Machu Picchu, Mt. Fuji, and Mount Everest’s base camp. Earlier this year, the program led hikes up Mt. Washington and through Iceland.

“This initiative organized by Moving Mountains for Multiple Myeloma not only raises awareness and research funding for multiple myeloma, but has brought together the myeloma community to take action and fight for a cure,” said Mike Hennessy Jr., president and CEO of MJH Life Sciences, parent company of CURE magazine.

Chad Saward, senior director, patient advocacy at Celgene said “We are amazed and inspired by all who are participating in this unique awareness program.”

Documented through social media and other platforms, the travel challenges seek to illustrate that therapy advances MMRF funded and spearheaded are helping patients live longer and better. Participants raise research funds through support from friends and associates.

Founded in 1998, the MMRF’s ultimate goal is curing multiple myeloma. For more information on the nonprofit organization’s efforts, click here.