Carol Stream woman climbing Mt. Fuji to fight disease that took her dad

 
By Jean Wescher
Special for the Daily Herald
Posted7/5/2017 5:40 AM
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  • Jean Wescher, second from left, and other team members finish a practice climb in New Hampshire ahead of a fundraising climb of Mt. Fuji in Japan.

    Jean Wescher, second from left, and other team members finish a practice climb in New Hampshire ahead of a fundraising climb of Mt. Fuji in Japan. Courtesy of Jean Wescher

  • Members of the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation scale Mount Monadnock in New Hampshire in preparation for the fundraising climb of Mt. Fuji in Japan.

    Members of the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation scale Mount Monadnock in New Hampshire in preparation for the fundraising climb of Mt. Fuji in Japan. Courtesy of Jean Wescher

  • Jean Wescher of Carol Stream trains for her climb of Japan's tallest mountain to raise money to fight the blood cancer that killed her father.

      Jean Wescher of Carol Stream trains for her climb of Japan's tallest mountain to raise money to fight the blood cancer that killed her father. Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

  • An avid runner, Jean Wescher of Carol Stream writes about her mission to raise money to fight the cancer that took her father's life. She's climbing her first mountain, Mt. Fuji in Japan.

      An avid runner, Jean Wescher of Carol Stream writes about her mission to raise money to fight the cancer that took her father's life. She's climbing her first mountain, Mt. Fuji in Japan. Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

Editor’s note: Jean Wescher, 34, lives in Carol Stream and was born in Arlington Heights. She is a wife and mother of two children, ages 5 and 3, and works at Calvary Community Church in Schaumburg. An avid runner, Wescher is training for her first climb: a July 16-21 ascent of Mt. Fuji, the tallest mountain in Japan at 12,388 feet. She writes about her mission: raising money for the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation, which battles the disease that claimed her father.

After a 12-year battle with multiple myeloma, my father knew the end likely was near.

My second child was due July 31, and my parents were in Houston doing an experimental clinical trial that was not working. So my dad decided that if he didn't have much time left, he wanted to be with his family. They came home just after the Fourth of July, 2014.

When I explained this to my doctor, she said my labor could be induced on July 24. So I went in that day, and my son Jackson was born at 11:30 a.m. My dad was actually about 10 minutes away having treatment, so he was there about 11:40, and was the first person to hold Jackson. It was a really special moment because I didn't know if my dad would be here to do that.

I'm so thankful that everything worked out the way it did, because Jackson and my dad had three weeks together before Dad passed away at 63. I know Jackson won't remember his grandfather, but I'll always remember those moments.

Always fighting

Fourteen years ago, on my 20th birthday, my father was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a cancer of the blood that develops in the bone marrow. It was a very stressful time for our family as so much was unknown in the beginning stages. Despite being told he had only three to five years to live, my father was determined to fight this disease, and he did so with dignity and courage.

He never complained about his treatment -- two stem cell transplants, too many chemo sessions to count, monthly blood work and yearly MRIs.

At his funeral, people couldn't believe he had been sick for nearly 12 years. That's just the type of man he was, he took this disease in stride and never complained; he just kept fighting.

And in the unexpected time we had with him, there were so many things that our family was able to do that we really didn't know would be possible. My dad was a huge sports fan, so he got to see the Blackhawks win two of their three Stanley Cups, the Bulls in the playoffs, the Bears in the Super Bowl and the White Sox World Series win. Dad just missed the Cubbies winning the pennant, which would've just thrilled him beyond belief.

Most importantly, though, Dad was here to walk me down the aisle, and see the birth of both of my children.

Dad would be proud

I knew of the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation, but after my dad passed away, things were too raw emotionally for me to really get involved. But after grieving and moving forward, I saw the information about its mission to climb Mt. Fuji, and I thought, wow, that would be something, wouldn't it?

Dad would've thought this was so amazing, too, and definitely would have been my biggest supporter. I also felt like climbing this mountain would really be a great way to honor his memory, but we're also raising funds with the hope that other families might not have to go through losing their loved ones. How many grandpas would get to play with their grandchildren because of the work the MMRF is doing?

Since my dad's passing, the MMRF has helped bring three new drugs to market. One of those possibly could've given my dad more time with us.

The Mt. Fuji team

We have a team of 20 going to Mt. Fuji, including six multiple myeloma patients and a treatment doctor. There are two us who have lost someone to myeloma. Other team members are climbing for someone in their lives who has myeloma, and there are a few members from Takeda Oncology, the climb's sponsor. Some amazing MMRF staffers are coming with us, too.

I'm taking on this climb because I decided that 2017 would be a year of "change" for me. Change from my normal routine. Yes, I'll be running a couple marathons this year but I also chose to run, for this first time, a trail 50K. The Fuji expedition is a great way to continue this year of something different!

As an endurance athlete, I run about 30 to 40 miles a week, so I have a strong aerobic background, which will definitely help me on the climb. I'm also doing a lot of training on the stair climber at my gym to get my hips, quads and hamstrings prepared for the elevation of the mountain. I do strength training two days a week as well.

Living in the Midwest isn't the most ideal place to train for mountain climbing. We have nothing even remotely close to that to simulate the altitude, so that's really an unknown that I just pray isn't too hard to adjust to. (I did get a prescription for altitude sickness to help prevent some of that.) And being on a plane for 13 hours straight is going to be something, too.

Fuji is the most-climbed mountain in the world, and that is partly because a novice can do it. But it is steep, and it's nothing to take lightly. Also, novice climbers tackle the mountain during only two months of the summer, the safest time to climb.

Part of my year of change is doing this on my own, without my family; it's a special time with my dad, so to speak. But my husband David and children, Emma, 5, and Jackson, nearly 3, are amazingly supportive, as it's a big deal for me to be gone for six days.

Initially, when I said I wanted to do this, most of my family rolled their eyes. Oh what's crazy Jean doing now? I think there's also some nervousness about me going to climb a mountain when I haven't really ever done that.

But as time has gone on, everyone has really started to see how great this is and how it's really keeping my dad's memory alive. I've even heard from some friends of my dad that I couldn't get a hold of in my earlier fundraising attempts. It's bittersweet hearing from them and seeing their donations.

I don't want families to have to go through what our family has gone through. My dad was one of the strongest, most honest and hardworking people I've ever met. Others will tell you the same. He didn't deserve to get this disease, but he did, and he never felt sorry for himself or quit.

There are so many people going through this, and if the money we raise can help others in their fight, then we're doing our job.

There's no cure for multiple myeloma, but compared to the time when my dad was diagnosed, people with the disease are living so much longer. That's thanks in no small part to the MMRF and the research they are doing.

When people talk about my dad, they all have only great things to say. I pray that if I ever have to endure something like this, that I can do it with the strength and dignity that he did.

I'm so proud of my dad; it's heartbreaking that he's not here with us any longer.

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