Moving Mountains for a Cause
“What? Mom has cancer?” Those were the words 13-year-old Kelley Ward uttered the first time she learned her mother, Kathryn, had been diagnosed with breast cancer. In her sophomore year at Wilton High School, Ward uttered the phrase for a second time when her mother experienced a relapse.
“Your innocent perspective of the world changes significantly when something affects you personally,” explains Ward, now 28. “One way I could deal with my mother’s illness when I was younger was through fund-raising, and I chose Relay for Life. The first year, I raised $10,000 and that was it—I got the bug! I realized that I could make an impact on a cause close to my heart. I believe that everyone can do more than they think they can. They just need an outlet. Today, my goal is to get rid of cancer and not have any other kid feel the way I did when I was growing up.”
Admittedly, an ambitious goal, but Kelly Ward means business. In fact, she is willing to climb mountains to achieve success. In her capacity as endurance events manager for the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation (MMRF), Ward helped to launch “Moving Mountains for Multiple Myeloma” with a goal to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro and raise $250,000 in donations. The project was opened up to patients, patients’ family members, and the public through a social media effort, and soon a team of 17 was formed. “Everyone who signed up for the expedition is either a patient, works in oncology or at a research foundation, has lost a loved one, or has someone close to them with Multiple Myeloma. It’s very personal for every participant,” says Ward.
After months of planning, preparation, and physical training, 14 team members lfor a research foundation, has lost a loved one, or has someone close to them with Multiple Myeloma. It’s very personal for every participant,” says Ward.
After months of planning, preparation, and physical training, 14 team members left for Tanzania in late February. But it wasn’t all smooth sailing. One participant slipped on the trail on day four and had to be evacuated off the mountain. Dealing with the extreme cold and altitude sickness was also a challenge that affected the entire team. “I started to feel it on day three,” says Ward, “and it persisted from there. It came in waves, bringing on nausea, loss of appetite, and dizziness. I struggled most with the loss of appetite, which made it hard for me to keep my body properly fueled for all the physical exertion we had to endure each day.”
Aside from worrying about her own well-being, Ward was responsible for overseeing the well-being of the entire team. “This was a monumental experience for each of us, and I wanted to make sure that everyone was healthy and focused, and that their experience was the best it could possibly be. For me, the ascent was all about helping them make their dreams come true.”
“The trek was more mentally challenging than I expected,” Ward admits. “I always knew I was going to make it physically. I had confidence in my body’s abilities. Each day was an adventure and so it kept me moving forward. But the night of the summit was incredibly hard. We woke up at 10 pm after only two hours of sleep, and began the climb at midnight. There was no moon so it was pitch-black and unbelievably cold. I felt delirious. It was hard to breathe and I was completely exhausted. It took us about nine hours and 15 minutes to reach the summit, and every step was a battle. My amazing teammates and our local guides kept me moving forward.
“We finally came around this rock outcropping and there it was, the sign: ‘Congratulations! You are now at Uruhu Peak, Tanzania.’ When I reached it, I burst into tears. I couldn’t believe I was finally standing there at the summit, surrounded by my incredible team members. I had reached the top. It was a very emotional experience.
“That was followed by a four hour trek back down, a short hour-long nap, and then another three hours of hiking,” says Ward. “It felt like the longest day of my life! But it was also victorious and such a positive experience.
“I am so, so proud of our team! We are now the highest fundraising group in the Moving Mountains for Multiple Myeloma program. Each of us had to raise a minimum of $10,000, and everyone exceeded that goal.”
Another fundraising expedition is in the works for the Moving Mountains 2018 program: Mt. Everest, one of the most challenging peaks in the world. When asked if she’ll climb another mountain in support of the charity that is so close to her heart, Kelly Ward laughs. “That’s like asking me if I want to have another baby while I’m still in the delivery room. I would love to continue to help the MMRF provide these life-changing opportunities for people in the myeloma community and to continue to raise funds for our life-extending cancer research and precision medicine model. The MMRF is breaking down barriers in oncology research that have stood in the way of a cure for a long time. I’ll always want to be a part of that.”
On a personal level, Ward says that the experience of climbing Kilimanjaro has taught her to be more present and has given her greater peace of mind. “Our head guide said, ‘Keep your mind where your feet are.’ I will carry that message with me always.”
Wiltonians J.P. Kealy, a multiple myeloma patient, and his wife, Annamarie, are now actively training—and fundraising—for the 2018 Mount Everest climb. To support their effort, go to endurance.themmrf.org/2018Everest/jpstrong