Mount Everest Base Camp Climb2018


Mark Herkert

Second Chances

January 23, 2016

If life is about second chances, then this Everest Trek is made for me

One of my favorite sayings is “Crisis is the greatest opportunity for growth,” and being diagnosed seven and a half years ago with multiple myeloma has given me purpose and passion; something I was missing pre-diagnosis. My desire to be part of the solution has led to four years of intense fundraising and training for endurance events, and the support and feedback I’ve gotten has been incredibly affirming.

Having an incurable cancer has taught me that every day that I feel good is a blessing, and to exploit that to the max. Case in point: Last February I was scheduled to climb Mount Kilimanjaro with the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation (MMRF), but health issues prevented me from participating. It was crushing to cancel on my teammates. I also joined the MMRF NYC marathon team, but food poisoning stopped me three hours into it. While not being able to accomplish what I set out to do was a major disappointment and took some prolonged sulking to get over, I was quite surprised by how people reacted to my failure. They reminded me in no uncertain terms that their support was not conditionally based upon whether I stepped foot in Africa or made it beyond Mile 18. It was if crossing the finish line or reaching the summit was irrelevant. This was somewhat of a revelation: that my value is not based upon my accomplishments. The support and understanding I received from my teammates and donors was humbling and inspiring.

Now I am back, having swum/biked/run a half Ironman this summer, and keeping my fingers crossed that I will be healthy when it’s time for Everest. The tenuousness of my health compels me to push my physical boundaries while I have the chance, and pack my life with impactful experiences.

Though it was a year of ups and downs, my health has stabilized thanks to research advances. After my latest chemo drug stopped working at the end of 2016 I quickly blew through two newer therapies that were ineffective. This was rather scary, as there are limited treatment options out there. I found myself on the cutting edge of treatment, receiving antibodies (a form of immunotherapy) which did not exist when I was diagnosed seven and a half years ago. One year later I am still doing well thanks to monthly infusions of this antibody.

And more immunotherapy options (AKA gene therapy) for multiple myeloma are just around the corner. The potential for immunotherapy to be a transformative cure is incredibly exciting. My oncologist at Seattle Cancer Care Alliance just enrolled his first patient in a CAR T-cell study, a process where scientists genetically manipulate your immune system to recognize and fight cancer. The future is finally here, and it brings hope to many of us that one day multiple myeloma may be curable. In the meantime I continue to fundraise and train frenetically because I know there will come a time when my current therapy will probably lose its effectiveness, and I will be reliant on the next advance, something only possible through research and studies.

I am excited to bond with a group of survivors and myeloma caregivers over our shared hopes and struggles, in a challenging setting off the grid where we can rely on each other and really focus on the moment. Unplug me, please! And let’s get down to what really matters — connecting and supporting others. Climb on!

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