Mount Kilimanjaro climbersA little over a year ago, we made the decision to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro. There were four of us, and after a good bit of research we chose the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society climbing program “Climb to Cure”—C2C. Of course, we felt it was a worthwhile cause and because me and my family knew Dr. Larry and have known him for many years, as well as supported his efforts to raise funds for LLS, it made our choice all the more solid. When we first met with Dr. Larry and his wife Sharon, and they told us that he wanted to go to Africa, but he was unable due to his leukemia, we were motivated more than ever to support him, and families like him.

What we did not realize was how many lives get touched with these blood cancers. There were 14 climbers total on our C2C team. Hearing the stories from the other climbers about how they had been affected by blood cancer and why they chose to climb the mountain was heart wrenching. There were climbers with parents diagnosed with blood cancer and those who had lost friends and loved ones and could speak directly to the benefits and support they received through LLS

The climb up Mt. Kilimanjaro spanned eight days. On the seventh day the push to the summit was made and it was the hardest thing we had ever done. In many ways it was more mental than physical. The climb started at 11:00 p.m. and didn’t finish until 6:00 p.m. the next day. Near the summit the temperature reached -20 degrees, we were running off five hours of sleep and all it took to return to a warm tent and hot food was to turn to a guide and say, “I can’t do it anymore” but we all pushed ahead. At no point was it physically too much to handle, but three hours in when you knew you had sixteen more in the frigid cold, it all came down to fighting the voice in your head telling you to “turn around.” There were various stops made to rest our legs, but with the harsh wind and subzero temperatures all we really wanted to do was keep moving to stay warm. At one point a member of our team actually fell asleep during one of these breaks and had to be woken up by a porter. Nobody on the climb was a world-class athlete. By that summit day we had formed a bond that can only be made through eight days on a cold and unforgiving mountain where you’d be hard pressed to find a shower within 50 miles. 

Our C2C team was comprised of some outstanding people who made the long summit day seem much more manageable in those cold early hours where not reaching the top was starting to feel like more of a reality. We did make it, and it’s a testament to every person on our expedition and our ability to go from total strangers, to having each other’s back on which the whole team unanimously agreed, was the hardest thing we’d ever done.  

The climb had an extra layer of purpose to it, however, being that it was done through the LLS. Reaching the top was a remarkable feeling, but the most rewarding part of the trip was knowing that the money our team raised—upwards of $52,000—was going to help people and the families like the extraordinary ones on the mountain who made the climb that much more meaningful, gave us all extra motivation, and helped us come closer to one another. It is something we are immensely proud to be a small part of. 

We leave you with a photo of us at the summit and the purple pennant that we carried with us was unfurled when we arrived showing Dr. Larry and Sharon that we did metaphorically have him join us in Africa. 

Thank you for your support.

Sincerely,

Patrick O’Keefe, Chris O’Keefe, Dillon Payne, Philippe Arino

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