Terry White on Mount Bierstadt.

Terry White on Mount Bierstadt.

Juneau man with multiple myeloma to climb Mount Kilimanjaro to raise cancer awareness

When most people fundraise, they do a bake sale or car wash, sometimes even host an event or run a marathon. But not Terry White — he’s going to climb a mountain.

In February 2017, he’s going to climb the highest mountain in Africa: Mount Kilimanjaro. His goal is to fundraise $10,000, all of which will be donated to research and drug development to treat multiple myeloma, a type of cancer in the blood.

White told the Empire in a sit-down interview that he is not a mountain climber. Sure, he’s climbed Mount Roberts a bunch as a kid growing up in Juneau, and as an adult, climbed some 14,000-foot mountains in Colorado with his wife and father-in-law, but nothing like taking on Kilimanjaro, which is over 19,000 feet high.

The path that led him to where he is currently began in March 2009 when he was diagnosed with multiple myeloma. He went to a chiropractor with complaints of back and hip pain, but he found no relief there. When he went in for a massage, the masseur found a lump on his hip and recommended he get it X-rayed, advice White followed. What the doctors found was a tumor the size of a grapefruit on his pelvis, and after tests were performed, determined it was multiple myeloma.

“At the time, I had no idea what it was,” White said. “I went home and looked it up and it totally freaked me out — 37-month life expectancy.”

White forced himself to learn more about his condition.

“This is something that, 10 years ago, this diagnosis was not good. Twenty years ago, you were dead.”

White went through all the chemotherapy and radiation therapy required for his treatment, and even had some of his stem cells stored in case he needed a transplant later. In June 2010, he was in complete remission. There is, however, no cure for myeloma, so to stay in remission, White started taking a drug that keeps his myeloma in check and he has routine blood work done.

“You might be on a drug today, that next year will stop working, it loses its effectiveness,” White said, adding he considers himself lucky because he has been on the same drug since 2010. When a patient is matched up with a drug to retain their remission to myeloma, the drug they are prescribed may not remain effective, or the drug could give them a variety of side effects which lowers their quality of life.

Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation (MMRF), started by someone with myeloma, is one of the leaders in research and development of new drugs to combat the cancer, White said. The organization raises millions of dollars, and the pharmaceutical companies involved share their data.

“It’s how they’re fast-tracking these drugs. They developed three last year,” White said.

Through this organization, White learned about the Moving Mountains for Multiple Myeloma, the awareness and fundraising campaign that challenges and supports cancer patients to take on climbs like Peru’s Machu Picchu, the Grand Canyon or Mount Kilimanjaro.

White isn’t doing it alone. There are 16 cancer patients or people who have been personally affected by the loss or diagnosis of a loved one with myeloma who will undergo the climb as well; each will raise $10,000. They will be accompanied by medical professionals, a camera crew to film them and about 85 porters who carry all the equipment and supplies for the entire journey (there’s a lot of gear to tote). MMFR, Takeda Pharmaceutical and CURE Magazine are financing the whole expedition.

The group will take the Lemosho route to Uhuru Peak, the highest point on the mountain. While the longest route — an eight day trip — it will also help acclimate the climbers to the altitude changes. The climbers will witness a variety of terrain changes throughout the climb from start to finish: rainforest, moorland, semi-desert, alpine desert and arctic.

There will be no need for propelling or mountain climbing gear required to scale cliff faces and the like.

“It’s not a technical climb,” White said. “It’s an advanced hike.”

To prepare for the hike, in July the team climbed Mount Bierstadt, a 14,000-foot mountain in Colorado. At the top, he said the group shared an emotional moment. They took photos together and appreciated the view.

“Everybody knew what they needed to do after this climb. They saw what they are up against,” White said, stating he has been preparing by swimming every day at Dimond Park Aquatic Center. He and some friends will try climbing a mountain in the Seattle area in the coming month.

Besides getting physically and mentally ready, he still needs to make his $10,000 goal. So far, he has raised the money through Facebook and email lists. As of Friday afternoon, he was 39 percent of the way there. He’s not too worried about not making his goal though.

“I spent my children’s younger years knocking on doors, selling raffle tickets, doing sales, car washes. I coached soccer, baseball, football and we raised a lot of money. The town opens up their wallets. They do,” he said.

He said after climbing Kilimanjaro, he probably won’t be flying out to any other exotic places to climb mountains, but said he does enjoy the experience.

“I constantly ask myself: why do people do this? When you get to the top, it’s wow, you’re there. I mean think about it, it’s hard work all along the way. I mean if you’re looking for the theme of this, climbing a mountain is nothing to battling cancer.”

To donate to White, go to: support.themmrf.org/site/TR?px=1484715&fr_id=2330&pg=personal.

• Contact Clara Miller at 523-2243 or at clara.miller@juneauempire.com.

Terry White, who has a type of blood cancer called multiple myeloma, is raising money for the development of drugs to treat this type of cancer with the goal 10,000 dollars. He will climb Mount Kilimanjaro with other cancer patients next year.

Terry White, who has a type of blood cancer called multiple myeloma, is raising money for the development of drugs to treat this type of cancer with the goal 10,000 dollars. He will climb Mount Kilimanjaro with other cancer patients next year.

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