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Two Survivors Moving Mountains for Blood Cancer Care

By The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society | February 21, 2024
Cotopaxi

A blood cancer diagnosis can feel like a mountain to climb—testing your stamina and willpower, challenging your body the longer you go on. But for survivors Lila and Laurie, their mountains haven’t been just a figure of speech. Some of the world’s highest summits have played a part in each woman’s blood cancer experience.  

Lila: Resolve Through Relapse 

In 2014, Lila was in remission from acute myeloid leukemia (AML) and planning her “next adventure”: climbing Mount Kilimanjaro. But the very week she planned to book her flights, she found out that her cancer had returned. As Lila settled in for another long period of treatment, a friend gave her a photo of Kilimanjaro in a frame that looked like a window—so that at any time, Lila could look out her “window” and remind herself of her goal beyond remission.  

Lila’s medical care team asked about the picture. Soon, she had gathered a dedicated group of doctors, nurses, fellow survivors, and friends willing to make the climb with her once she was well again.  

After a successful stem cell transplant, she left the hospital determined to give back. She chose to support The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS) with her climb. In 2017, she and her team of twelve raised $133,000 for LLS on their Kilimanjaro climb. And a year later, in 2018, she partnered with LLS to form Climb2Cure—a series of global treks for blood cancer changemakers. 

Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro

Laurie: A Celebration on Hold 

 

Laurie could have met Lila on that same climb to Kilimanjaro. But in 2017, she was still struggling with follicular lymphoma that just kept relapsing. Her oncologist tried to keep her motivated with a goal: When she finally reached remission, she would trek to Mount Everest Base Camp with LLS Team In Training

One year later—the same year Lila created Climb2Cure with LLS—Laurie walked out of the hospital. After twelve grueling years and seven treatments total, she had finally reached remission. Laurie made plans to join Climb2Cure at Mount Everest, aiming to fundraise for advances in immunotherapy—the kind of medicine that helped cure her, and could help others. She booked her flights for April 2020. 

But her trip never materialized. In March 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic spurred shutdowns across the globe. Laurie had to give up on her trip—but she refused to give up on her goal. She vowed that when she was able, she would climb a mountain for all those affected by blood cancer. 

 

Two Survivors Join Forces 

Lila and Laurie

Lila and Laurie knew of each other through their work with LLS long before they met. Now dear friends, they share a sense of resolve to push forward and help others. As LLS ambassadors, they’re spearheading Climb2Cure’s 2024 event in Ecuador—climbing five volcanic peaks in Cotopaxi National Park. The two will lead a group of like-minded trekkers to raise funds for the LLS mission. They’ll support patients and survivors just like them all over the country, as well as the doctors and researchers who help treat them into remission.  

For Lila, now a survivor three times over, fundraising for LLS is both personal and for her community. “I have experienced LLS as a three-time AML patient, a high-impact volunteer, an advocate on Capitol Hill, and ultimately, as an employee,” she shares. “I am proud to say that from every vantage point LLS has remained that beacon of knowledge, empathy and ultimately hope.” 

Laurie ultimately reached remission thanks to CAR T-cell therapy, a kind of immunotherapy that LLS has helped support over decades with over $40 million in research funding. With her fundraising, she continues to support advances in this pioneering research. “The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society was very early to the game funding researchers [in CAR T],” she explains. “That's why I do what I do—with LLS and for other patients.” 

There is no doubt for all of us at LLS: When these two survivors finally face the adventure they’ve been waiting for, they’ll go all the way. They'll continue to move mountains—for every person affected by blood cancer. And you can join them. 

Climb with Lila and Laurie—or choose a summit of your own. Check out the full range of upcoming Climb2Cure treks around the globe. 

View from a climb