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Fairfield County Climbers Tackle Machu Picchu In Peru For Multiple Myeloma

Alicia O'Neill of Norwalk, left, and Paul Bassett of Stamford climbed in Peru to benefit the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation. Photo Credit: Contributed
Alicia O'Neill and her team of MMRF climbers celebrate after hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu in Peru. Photo Credit: Contributed by Brooke Lorenz
Alicia O'Neill of Norwalk looks out after reaching the summit at Mount Kilimanjaro. Photo Credit: Contributed
Alicia O'Neill of Norwalk, left, and Paul Bassett of Stamford climbed the Inca Trail in Peru to raise money for multiple myeloma. Photo Credit: Contributed
Alicia O'Neill, front row, second from left, celebrates with Moving Mountains for Myeloma climbers after a hike earlier this year. Photo Credit: Contributed
Alicia O'Neill of Norwalk climbed in Peru to raise money for the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation. Photo Credit: Contributed

FAIRFIELD COUNTY, Conn. -- Norwalk resident Alicia O’Neill tackled two of the world’s strenuous climbing challenges earlier this year. On Friday, Stamford resident Paul Basset joined her as she completed another climbing venture.

O’Neill and Basset climbed the final leg of the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu in Peru, a grueling nine-hour hike. The climbs are the third in a series of Moving Mountains for Multiple Myeloma. The climbs raise funds and awareness for the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation, which is based in Norwalk and was founded by New Canaan resident Kathy Giusti. The climb started Friday.

Bassett, who is making his first climb, coordinates research for MMRF clinical trials to find treatments for multiple myeloma, a cancer formed by malignant plasma cells. O’Neill is the Director of Business Development and Partnerships for MMRF.

Already this year, O’Neill climbed Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania and the and the Grand Canyon’s Bright Angel Trail. The climbs have raised close to $500,000 for Multiple Myeloma. The 20-member team climbing in Peru includes myeloma patients, nurses, doctors and family members and caregivers of patients.

Bassett has been preparing for months for his first climb, and on Tuesday wrote about the journey. “The preparation has been a journey that is now down to the final days. It is more a mental process now than a physical one,’’ he said. "The funds have been raised and over 500 miles of hikes have been completed. Now I am in a beautiful country whose language I do not speak. Facing the “mountain” of hike day is now upon me. … The excitement of everyone coming together, exploring a new country where it is winter time in August, and sentiments of why we are all here is almost as overwhelming as the first time this opportunity presented itself. Being a part of this team is an honor and just like the preparation to get here, it’s about enjoying the process.”

Multiple myeloma is an incurable blood cancer that gives patients less than a 50 percent chance of survival beyond five years, according to the National Cancer Institute. Though some patients can manage symptoms and life expectancy can be extended by the use of treatments, continued research funding is needed to reach the ultimate goal of finding a cure.

O’Neill left a successful career in the television industry to raise two children, and has worked with MMRF since 2007. She is passing up a high school reunion in California to climb in Peru. Helping MMRF patients is now her version of success.

“Today, success is having created my dream job where I help people who are touched by multiple myeloma, a devastating blood cancer, take on a bucket list challenge like the New York City Marathon or IRONMAN Lake Placid, or a run up the Empire State Building to raise funds for an outstanding organization that is funding and spearheading research that is saving the live of their loved one,’’ she wrote on her blog. “Or it means providing a challenging and life-changing experience for a grieving adult to honor his father, who lost the battle with myeloma. Or it means walking side by side with myeloma patients, doctors, nurses and loved ones up some of the most iconic mountains in the world.”

The climb in Peru will not be easy for O’Neill, Bassett and the rest of the MMRF team. The hike in the Andes Mountains tops out at an elevation of over 9,000 feet, the pinnacle of which is the arrival at the “lost city” of Machu Picchu. Less than 1 percent of visitors to Machu Picchu enter the Citadel via a hike along the Inca Trail. They will be led by guides, some of whom have hiked the trail more than 400 times.

“There is nothing more powerful than working together with multiple myeloma patients, doctors and nurses, caregivers and partners like Takeda Oncology and CURE toward a common goal,” O’Neill said. “Pushing beyond perceived limits, working together with our dedicated partners, moving into action to demonstrate — through our physical feats — that we can be a source of funding and of inspiration is at the core of why we are climbing.”

Click here to donate and learn more about Moving Mountains for Myeloma.

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