Jeff Monsein admits struggling to pronounce the name of the cancer he was raising awareness for while riding in a 2010 Duke University charity bike ride.
“What is this multiple myeloma?” he asked.
Monsein, 59, when he went to his doctor two years later for a routine physical for a life insurance plan. He felt fine.
But when the company turned him down he assumed the worst.
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The doctor had diagnosed him with multiple myeloma, the rare, incurable and hard-to-pronounce blood cancer that damages bone marrow. He urged a confused Monsein to begin chemotherapy as soon as possible.
A follow-up with a Durham specialist, however, found Monsein had smoldering myeloma, a precancerous form of the disease. The specialist told Monsein he would have suffered greatly had he initially started chemotherapy.
“If I went with the first doctor, I don’t know where I would be right now,” Monsein said.
Symptoms of multiple myeloma, which represents just 1 percent of all diagnosed cancers, include pain in the ribs and back with bone lesions throughout the body.
“Once it gets full blown, your bones will deteriorate and break,” he said. “It’s a pretty devastating disease untreated or treated.”
Each year since his 2012 diagnosis, Monsein, who runs The Aluminum Company of North Carolina, has a bone scan to see if any lesions are present. He gets a check-up every three months.
Fortunately, Monsein says, he has yet to experience any symptoms, and his cancer remains smoldering.
After his initial diagnosis, Monsein’s daughter, Rachel Overcash, did research that brought her to the nonprofit Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation.
It was then, after following the foundation on social media, Overcash found Moving Mountains for Multiple Myeloma.
The foundation, founded with CURE Media Group, Takeda Oncology and the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation, raises awareness and money for myeloma research through climbing expeditions around the world. Overcash saw the foundation was looking for climbers for a trip to Mount Fuji, Japan.
“I thought it would be something really great to participate in and raise money for,” she said.
Overcash, 31, thought it would take some effort to get her father to climb Mount Fuji – but he came on-board immediately.
For each climb the foundation asks each participant to raise $5,000, with 90 percent of money going to multiple myeloma research. Its first climb to Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa in 2016 raised nearly $250,000 with a group of 20.
As the foundation’s first father-daughter team to participate on a climb, the duo committed to raise at least $10,000.
Six weeks ago, they climbed Mount Monadnock in New Hampshire, with a group of 20 that would join them in Japan. Six of the 20 were myeloma patients while the rest were family members and doctors.
As they left for Japan last weekend, they had raised $17,625.
“When I take a step back and look at it, it all makes sense,” Overcash said before leaving. “It just kind of happened; I think a big reason is because (the donors) all love my dad.”
Monsein, meanwhile, said the climb had helped him open.
“It’s been a nice way to bring it up in a positive way, to enlighten people about the disease, the challenges of it,” he said. “A lot of people just don’t understand.”
Who’s at risk?
The lifetime risk of getting multiple myeloma is relatively small. According to the American Cancer Society, approximately 1 out 161 people in the United States will develop the disease at some point in their life. For unknown reasons, the incidence is twice as high in black as compared to white Americans and men have a slightly higher risk than women.
Source: Cancer Treatment Centers of America