Moving mountains for myeloma awareness
Former Darien resident Annamarie Kealy often likes to say she and her husband JP will “go to the ends of the earth” to help raise money to find a cure for JP’s multiple myeloma.
While most people consider that just an expression, the Kealys are living up to it. Through a nonprofit organization called Moving Mountains for Myeloma, they’re now on a trek through Patagonia, a region at the southern end of South America.
Along with a group of about a dozen people, they left Nov. 1 and will return Nov. 11.
Each day of their trip involves a six to eight hour-long hiking adventure that includes once in a lifetime views. According to their itinerary, one day, they hike to Cerro Astillado, a 6,500-foot mountain. This involves trekking through tangled forests and open grasslands. They and the group may also find 100-million year old fossils as they travel through remote and isolated valleys in South America.
On another day, they move into the Andean terrain, passing savanna-like valleys and glaciated peaks.
They are also going to La Condorera, which is home to a great number of endangered condors. This trip is 80 percent uphill.
JP was diagnosed with multiple myeloma in 2014, when he was 48. Multiple myeloma is a blood cancer that attacks plasma cells.
“We learned that JP had three fractured discs on his spine from a tumor about the size of a golf ball,” Annamarie said in an interview prior to their trip. “We had that moment of ‘Oh no, this isn’t in the plan.’”
The couple, who now live in Norwalk, had four teenagers at the time JP was diagnosed. Annamarie is a former teacher at Middlesex Middle School in Darien. JP is an irrigation contractor in Stamford. They are both graduates of Darien High School.
“You are thrown into this whole new world. We didn’t even know what multiple myeloma was,” she said.
Over the past five years, JP has undergone radiation, six bone marrow biopsies and a stem cell transplant, in addition to a year of inoculations and immunizations.
He’s now on chemotherapy as well as medication to strengthen his bones.
“I feel great,” said JP, who is now 54. “I haven’t missed a day of work.”
Everest Base Camp
Moving Mountains for Multiple Myeloma is a collaboration between the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation and CURE Media Group.
Its purpose is to raise research funds, awareness, and hope for myeloma patients through challenging trips to such places as Mount Kilimanjaro, the Grand Canyon, Peru’s Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, Mt. Fuji and Everest Base Camp, and others.
When the Kealys first heard about Moving Mountains, they were very interested and immediately committed to raising money to go to Everest Base Camp in Lukla, Nepal, in March of 2018.
“I thought if we are going to do it, let’s do it big,” Annamarie said.
In order to be able to go on the two-week trip, they had to raise $10,000 each. Team Kealy raised $62,000. Their trip raised more than $400,000. All the money they raised went to the MMRF.
Seven multiple myeloma patients went on the trip, along with five doctors and a film crew. The film can be viewed by visiting vimeo.com/uncagethesoul/review/275164835/b39279740a.
“We did about 75 miles, round trip,” JP said. “We went up to 17,500 feet.”
At night, they slept in a tea house, which is a shelter with plywood walls and no heat or water.
“Every night you could see your breath, it was so cold,” Annamarie said. “You would put your clothes in your sleeping bag so they wouldn’t freeze.”
One night JP said he could barely breathe since his oxygen fell into dangerous levels.
The food was “awful,” according to JP, who lost 14 pounds on the trip.
Sherpas and yaks carried their gear.
They drank “a ton” of water, “that’s the key ... hydrating,” Annamarie said.
In March, the couple’s son Tommy Kealy ran in the United Airlines NYC Half, a half-marathon in support of JP and MMRF. Tommy and his team raised more than raised more than $65,000. To date, the Kealy family has raised close to $100,000 for the foundation.
For their Patagonia trip, the couple had to raise $10,000 each for a second time. They have currently raised more than $27,000. To donate to the Kealys’ fundraising page, visit endurance.themmrf.org/2019PatagoniaAlumni/jpstrong.
The couple’s longtime friend, Darien resident Chris Maher, is also on the trip with them.
“We feel so humbled and blessed by the people that have supported us and have donated to this organization,” Annamarie said. “We’re forever grateful.”
JP said he was most looking forward to seeing the condors on the trip.
“We are going to be so close to them that we can hear their wings flapping,” he said. “It’s such a remote area that they’re not used to civilization.”
Annamarie said she was most looking forward to “the beauty of the landscape. It’s incredible.”
Hoping for a cure
The Kealys said the trips they take through Moving Mountains motivate them since they get to spend time with patients and people “who are all so positive,” Annamarie said.
“We are surrounded by people that are looking to the future and feeling like there’s going to be a cure,” she said.
“Instead of focusing on the ‘What ifs,’ we are focusing on ‘What can we do about it?,’” she added.
The Kealys said they plan to keep climbing mountains until there’s a cure.
“Everyone has their own mountain to climb in life,” Annamarie said.
“Having a condition such as multiple myeloma puts life in perspective,” JP said. “The little things don’t matter anymore. We are more positive. We enjoy every moment.”
For more information or to donate to the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation, visit themmrf.org.
To learn more about the Patagonia Alumni Trek, visit https://endurance.themmrf.org/2019PatagoniaAlumni/jpstrong.