‘Feeling Well Enough to Climb a Mountain Is Awesome’

Fighting cancer, acting for others and going up against Mount Fuji — could you do what these incredible people have done?

by Elizabeth M. Economou | Updated 01 Aug 2017 at 5:00 PM

A week before turning 39, Deana Dietzler, a mother of three, found herself in a state of shock after she was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a rare and incurable — though treatable — blood cancer.

“She didn’t fit the profile of the average patient,” said Dietzler’s sister, Deborah, in a statement. “Nevertheless, it was time to mobilize — her children were 12, eight, and two, and we had to get their mother well.”

That was six years ago. Dietzler, now 45, is outsmarting her disease — not letting it get in the way of living a meaningful and active life. Based in Cranberry Township, Pennsylvania, she's embraced her latest challenge with grit and gusto, as have others similarly diagnosed.

"Climbing a mountain was never on my radar," said cancer victim Deana Dietzler, a mother of three from Pennsylvania.

Just recently, Dietzler and a cohort of other multiple myeloma patients, health care providers, caregivers, and supporters scaled Japan's picturesque Mount Fuji on an arduous two-day hike. The group of 20 ascended skyward more than 12,000 feet — despite steep terrain, high altitude, and extreme shifts in weather. The effort was geared toward driving awareness and helping to raise funds for multiple myeloma research.

The American Cancer Society says multiple myeloma claimed the lives of some 12,000 patients in 2016.

Like Dietzler, Ryan Anthony, also a Mount Fuji team member, was equally surprised by his diagnosis — which arrived on Thanksgiving Day in 2012.

"There has never been any cancer in my family, so the idea of such a disease was never on our radar," the former prodigy who now serves as acting principal trumpet of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra told LifeZette. "I had heard of multiple myeloma before as an incurable and terminal disease, so the initial diagnosis was a major surprise full of immediate despair and panic for what it would mean to my family."

Fortunately, Anthony's cancer today is in complete remission thanks to an autologous stem cell transplant and several years of treatment.

Yet he is a changed man to be sure.

"Everywhere I turn, I now see things differently. As a musician, it's given my music more emotion and power to share with others," he said.

Shortly after his diagnosis, he started The Ryan Anthony Foundation and Cancer Blows to help raise funds for research. More than 26,000 new cases of multiple myeloma are diagnosed in the U.S. annually, according to medical estimates — and there are 114,000 new cases diagnosed globally.

"I'm fortunate to be given a stage — literally — to make a statement and raise awareness for cancer research," added Anthony. "There are so many others who don't have such an opportunity, so I take it seriously in representing all patients and bringing us together in this fight, as well as finding the best path for myself and family in this battle."

Related: Warriors in the Fight Against Breast Cancer

With her cancer currently in remission for the second time, Dietzler considers herself blessed.

"Climbing a mountain was never on my radar. Before I was diagnosed, due to my extreme anemia, I was unable to climb a flight of stairs, or push a full grocery cart, or take my two-year-old in and out of the car," she told LifeZette. "So to feel well enough to be able to climb a mountain six years later is awesome."

The recent climb on Mount Fuji, part of a project called Moving Mountains for Multiple Myeloma (MM4MM), is a collaboration of the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation (MMRF), CURE Media Group, and Takeda Oncology.

Additional patient team members included Jeff Monsein of Durham, North Carolina; Leslie Perron of Princeton, Texas; Patti Bivona of Boulder, Colorado; and Steve Albano of Menlo Park, California. The Mount Fuji team has raised more than $141,000. Proceeds will go toward developing multiple myeloma treatments.

Moving Mountains for Multiple Myeloma (MM4MM) brings together patients, family members, and doctors to spread awareness of an incurable blood cancer.

Related: A Clearer, Better, Stronger Way to Fight Cancer

"We are inspired by this team and grateful to Takeda and CURE for their continued support of the Moving Mountains for Multiple Myeloma program," said Paul Giusti, MMRF's CEO and president, in a statement. "Funds raised by programs like these help the MMRF continue to accelerate precision medicine-based therapies, which identify the best treatment for every patient."

All 20 participants were chosen through an application and interview process; they were each responsible for raising a minimum of $5,000, according to Alicia O'Neill, MMRF's director of partnerships and business development.

Since 2016, MM4MM participants (excluding the Mount Fuji team) have raised more than $1.1 million in a total of five expeditions: Africa's Mount Kilimanjaro (twice); the Grand Canyon's Bright Angel Trail (twice); and Machu Picchu's Inca Trail. Additional climbs are planned for 2018, including a trek to Everest Base Camp.

MMRF has raised more than $330 million since its inception and directs nearly 90 percent of total funds to research and related programs.

Related: What a Cancer Patient Did with Three Months to Live

Dietzler, meanwhile, is living her life with grace and appreciation, diagnosis and all.

"I have a positive outlook on myeloma and the therapies that are being approved," said Dietzler. She is currently participating in a clinical trial that she hopes will help others suffering from multiple myeloma. "So many [therapies] have come to the market even within the six years since I've  been diagnosed. And when and if I stop responding — my doctor said there are other things for me to take. I am not worried at all."

Elizabeth M. Economou writes about higher education, health, and real estate. She is a former adjunct professor and CNBC staff business writer.

(photo credit, homepage and article images: Midori, Wikimedia)

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