Next Monday evening, Feb. 12, from 5:30 to 9:30, JP Kealy will step behind the bar at Marly’s Bar & Bistro in Wilton Center. It’s not his new job. It’s a fund-raiser, and all tips he receives will go to the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation.
Four years ago, Kealy was diagnosed with multiple myeloma. Ever since, he and his wife, Annamarie, have been fighting the disease with a vengeance. Now they are preparing for what truly will be the trip of a lifetime — an ascent to Everest Base Camp in the Himalayan Mountains to benefit the foundation.
For three years after his diagnosis, the Kealys played a waiting and watching game while JP received IV treatments to strengthen his bones. Then it became apparent more aggressive treatment was needed, and last April Kealy underwent a stem cell transplant. Annamarie reports that “he could not be feeling better.”
In an email to The Bulletin, she said Kealy is “Minimal Residual Disease Negative, which means not one cancer cell was detected in his body after the biopsy. He is in complete remission! We are absolutely thrilled.”
Kealy is back on maintenance chemotherapy to keep the cancer at bay, she said. There is no cure for multiple myeloma, so while he is in remission there is always the worry the cancer can come back. The family is hoping for a long remission.
When the couple first learned of Kealy’s diagnosis, they connected with the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation (themmrf.org), formed in New Canaan in 1998, and participated in its fund-raising 5K walks. They received a lot of support and wanted to do more.
Two years ago the foundation began a program called Moving Mountains for Myeloma, in which multiple myeloma patients join a team to climb mountains. The first trip was to Mt. Kilimanjaro. The couple set their sights on this year’s ascent to Everest Base Camp.
Since JP’s recovery from the transplant, the couple have been training and hiking as much as possible.
“We hike anywhere from five to 10 miles at a time and have climbed a few mountains over 12,000 feet,” Annamarie said. Last summer, the couple joined six other patients and four doctors and climbed Mt. Democrat in Colorado, elevation 14,176 feet.
“We feel so blessed to have this opportunity to go to Nepal,” Annamarie said. “It has helped us focus on all the positives.”
The Kealys will join a team of six other patients, five doctors, and caregivers. The trip begins on March 3 with a two-night stay in Kathmandu to acclimate to their surroundings. From there they fly to Lukla, known as the world’s most dangerous airport for its mountainous approach, where they will begin their climb at 9,383 feet.
“We will hike the next nine days to Phakding, Namche Bazaar, Tengboche, Pheriche, Lobuche, Gorakshep, Everest Base Camp, and finally Kalapathhar, the highest point of the trip at 18,514 feet,” Annamarie said. “We should have a spectacular view of the glacier and Mt. Everest.
“On the descent, we then hike down to Pheriche at 14,340 feet followed by our final hike to Namche, where we will take a helicopter back to Kathmandu. We will stay in local tea houses and will have Sherpas and yaks to guide us. I have no doubt it will be a life-changing experience.”
To participate in the climb, the foundation required the Kealys to raise $10,000. They have done much more.
“We are absolutely humbled that we have received over $50,000 in donations so far for the MMRF, and our new goal is $60,000,” she said. All told, their team has raised $350,000.
“The generosity of this community is incredible,” she said. “Knowing we are climbing to EBC to help raise funds for a cure is so inspiring.”
Monday night at Marly’s will not only be an opportunity to raise more money for the foundation, it will also allow the Kealys and Marly’s patrons to celebrate JP’s remission and their upcoming trip.
“I hope to thank many of our amazing supporters,” Annamarie said. “We could not have done this alone!
“A year ago today, JP’s cancer was spreading quickly and today he is in remission. We are forever grateful to the MMRF, JP’s amazing doctors, family and friends who have carried us through a difficult year. The support of Wiltonians has been heartwarming!”