NORWALK — First, Annamarie and JP Kealy hiked to the Mount Everest base camp in Nepal. After that, the pair tackled the Patagonia region of South Africa. With a year off due to the coronavirus pandemic, the pair are now tackling Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula — all for cancer research.
The week-long international fundraising campaign began in 2018, four years after JP was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, an incurable cancer of plasma cells. This year’s trek in Alaska will take place August 16-21, but JP and Annamarie will head to Alaska on Tuesday for some pre-trekking sightseeing.
It was April 21, 2014, when what JP thought was a muscle strain turned out to be something far more evil. Annamarie Kealy, now 51, was standing in the family driveway in Wilton when she got the call from JP, now 56, to inform her of the diagnosis.
“A few weeks earlier, he was lifting weights and thought he had pulled a muscle, but learned that day he had three fractures and a golf ball-sized tumor on his spine,” Annamarie wrote on the Alaskan Trek biography page. of the bunch.
Since JP’s diagnosis, three of Kealy’s four children have graduated from college and the couple have moved from their 22-year-old home in Wilton to a new home in the Rowayton neighborhood of Norwalk.
In those seven years, JP, Annamarie and their family have raised more than $110,000 on the three walks and another $15,000 raised through their son’s New York City half marathon and the couple’s three-state fundraising walks, Annamarie said. .
The couple raised $68,000 for the Everest trek and $28,000 for the Patagonia trip, Annamarie said.
“It’s one of those things that we’ve done and if you think about it,” Annamarie said. “It was so incredible that we had this opportunity to raise awareness. For us it’s real, we’re raising awareness and funds and our ultimate goal is to find a cure.”
While the couple’s four children — Tom, 25; Brendan, 24; Jake, 22; and Lily, 19 — unable to accompany their parents on the Alaska trip, they have expressed support in other ways over the years.
After JP’s stem cell transplant in 2017, their three sons got tattoos in JP’s handwriting that read “JP strong,” he said.
“The boys did it and thought I’d be upset,” Annamarie said. “I was so touched. They were in college at the time and we didn’t know they were doing it. I shocked them by buying one.”
Annamarie and Lily also got the “JP strong” badge on the inside of their wrists.
“It united us, even though there was one in Virginia, one in Pennsylvania, we were all together,” Annamarie said.
The tours are part of Moving Mountains for Multiple Myeloma, a collaboration between the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation and CURE Media Group. For the trips, each team chosen will be asked to raise a minimum of $20,000, all of which will go toward research into multiple myeloma, Annamarie said.
Pharmaceutical companies, including Britain’s GSK, France’s Sanofi and Bristol Myers Squibb, are sponsoring the trek and helping the team supply matching gear and supplies, according to the Moving Mountains for Multiple Myeloma website.
As of Friday, the couple has raised $17,000 of their $20,000 goal, according to their fundraising page.
Multiple myeloma, a type of blood cancer, develops in the bone marrow and can lead to fractures, like JPs, according to the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation.
Despite his diagnosis and the new cocktail of drugs JP started taking in July 2020, he still works full-time as the owner of the underground irrigation company Lucky Lawn, with son Brendan. Annamarie serves as JP’s caretaker, allowing her to accompany JP on the walks and help him navigate his many doctor’s appointments and treatments.
“You would never know he was on all these drugs because he is very strong mentally and physically,” Annamarie said.
JP has responded well to the new regimen, with three weeks of biweekly infusions and steroid treatments followed by a one-week break.
“My numbers have been good to where they’re lowering the dosages, so it’s more tolerable,” JP said. “I don’t have any crashes over the weekend from steroids. Fortunately I feel good. My numbers are in top shape right now.”