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From Cancer Diagnosis to the Top of Mount Kilimanjaro

Photos: Courtesy of Jeff Goad

In 2010, just a week before his 50th birthday, Jeff Goad was diagnosed with multiple myeloma. Though the news was devastating and he endured aggressive chemotherapy and stem cell transplants, Jeff returned to his pre-diagnosis lifestyle by running the Chicago Marathon in 2011. When his temporary remission ended in June 2015, Jeff once again responded defiantly — by climbing Mount Kilimanjaro.

He clearly believes in living life to the fullest, despite a cancer diagnosis. “You still grab ahold of life, do the things you can do and don’t think you’re limited because of what the textbook says,” Jeff explains. “I hate rules, and when someone says it’s not a good idea, I say, ‘Let’s go!’”

Moving Mountains for Multiple Myeloma

Jeff and his wife, Ramona Biliunas, climbed Kilimanjaro in January 2016 with Moving Mountains for Multiple Myeloma, a collaboration between the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation (MMRF), Takeda Oncology and CURE Media Group to raise awareness of and funds for myeloma research.

Jeff says MMRF was the “first beacon of hope for my wife and I” after diagnosis, providing “inspiration and a sane place to get reliable information.” When the organization invited them to take part in the climb, he says it took “about a nanosecond to say yes.”

AIN’T NO MOUNTAIN HIGH ENOUGH: Moving Mountains for Multiple Myeloma is an initiative dedicated to raising awareness, and funding, myeloma research, offering patients a “first beacon of hope.”

The 15-member Kilimanjaro expedition included four myeloma patients, and raised nearly $250,000 for MMRF. The challenge was literally a childhood dream come true for Jeff, but it was also an opportunity to inspire others. “It’s a personal adventure, and we raise a lot of money and touch many people who enjoy it vicariously. Any inspiration we can provide also motivates me, so there is a mutual benefit.”

More than just an adventure

Marty Murphy, director of cancer patient education at CURE Magazine, was also part of the Kilimanjaro expedition, an experience he originally believed would be a one-off event, but turned out to be the first of many. As the group walked down the mountain, reflecting on a life-changing experience, they talked about doing it again. “A few months later we were in the Grand Canyon, then Macchu Pichu, then back to Kilimanjaro and the Grand Canyon, and then to Mount Fuji.”

Each climb has had its challenges, and the occasional heartbreak when someone is unable to summit because of health complications. Still, he describes each expedition as a “truly moving, beautiful experience,” in part because of the grit shown by each team member. “I’ve never witnessed so much determination from people… the patients and caregivers and supporters.”

Lessons from fellow climbers

Marty says if there’s one key thing he’s learned from climbing alongside myeloma patients, it’s this: “I try to make it my business never to complain.”

ALL IN THIS TOGETHER: Through the experience of conquering Kilimanjar, and later the Grand Canyon, Marty Murphy witnessed the extrodinary bravery of his fellow climbers.

While he says the mountains are extraordinary, the fortitude and love for humanity he’s see from others is his greatest takeaway. “Imagine the cancer patients who go off their drugs to make these climbs. They are not climbing to scratch something off the bucket list, they are climbing to raise money for a cure and for patients they’ve met who are struggling or have passed away.”

Next on the Moving Mountains for Multiple Myeloma agenda is a March 2018 trip to Mount Everest Base Camp, where Jeff and Marty will once again climb alongside other myeloma advocates. It’s another opportunity to live life to the fullest that may just inspire others to do the same. As Jeff says, “It’s never too late to begin something aspirational, whether it’s a 5K, half marathon or climbing a mountain.” 

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