Climb 2 Cure: Ascending Kilimanjaro to battle leukemia
That is the plan for Leukemia & Lymphoma Society fundraiser Spencer Lovette, a Mont Vernon resident, who with a dozen others will launch Oct. 6 for a 10-day trek up and down Mount Kilimanjaro.
“My mother, Joyce, died of leukemia when I was 16 years old,” Lovette said. “She was only 43 years old, and already a vibrant and successful attorney.”
Imagine scrabbling up Kilimanjaro with the team. Lean into the biting winds. Brave the perilous crags of jagged rock. The adventurers’ mission is twofold: to conquer the mountain and to help find a cure for leukemia and other blood cancers.
The nearly 20,000-foot precipice is a volcanic behemoth whose scarcity of oxygen at the top, about 50 percent of normal, makes each breath a struggle. An acclimation period is not an option but a mandate.
Kilimanjaro’s down-low tropical heat morphs into sleet and snow. Arctic frigidity reigns at Uhuru Point, the summit. Nightly temperatures of 20 degrees below zero there are commonplace.
However, Lovette is set on success.
Lovette, 68, recalls that after his mom’s death, the remaining two years of high school passed by him as if he and his brother were alone. Their dad was rarely home.
“I found some escape from sadness in the remote outdoors,” Lovette said. “Hiking and climbing and learning to survive in the wilderness taught me some important life skills.”
Lovette said that when he heard about the climb up Mount Kilimanjaro, he “jumped at the chance” upon learning it was an expedition that included a fundraising campaign for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. The nonprofit, according to LLS.org, has since 1949 dedicated more than $1.2 billion to the research Lovette avowed is “closing in on a cure” for blood cancers.
The LLS documents that nationwide in 2018, some 174,250 people are afflicted with blood cancers. Every three minutes, a diagnosis is made of chronic lymphocytic leukemia, acute myeloid leukemia, acute lymphoblastic leukemia, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma or multiple myeloma.
Those suffering want to hear one word: “Cure.”
Lovette recently spoke before a crowd of about 70 friends. He faced them, began talking, and formed a circle with his thumb and index finger. Then, he opened a tiny space between the two digits.
He is president of the Merrimack Valley Beekeepers Association (MVBee.org), a regional club for enthusiasts. It was a monthly meeting night when the outdoorsman, one who raises honey bees in hives near his home, shared with the club his message of hope for a cure.
“We are this close to a cure for leukemia and other blood diseases,” Lovette told them, squeezing his fingertips together. “The research that went into finding a cure for polio took the effort over the top — up and over, to the point that polio is now pretty much a thing of the past.”
Lovette’s wife, Judie, and son, Trevor, are proud supporters of the climb. His daughter, Brenda, is helping by sharing with her dad training hikes of 15 miles or more through the White Mountains. However, these peaks measure a relatively modest height of 6,289 feet, compared to Kilimanjaro’s at nearly 20,000 feet.
A dozen associates from Elbit Systems of America, Lovette’s workplace, will join him for the climb. A cadre of professional porters will help tote supplies. Elbit Systems, an international defense electronics company, blessed the adventure for its personnel, mostly from Fort Worth, Texas, or other Elbit locations.
Lovette is a program manager for KMC, the medical instrumentation division of Elbit, located on Daniel Webster Highway in Merrimack.
The 13 adventurers from Elbit are a part of Team in Training, sponsored since 1988 by LLS and currently comprised of around 650,000 athletes whose embrace of extreme fitness challenges has raised more than $1 billion for research.
All monetary sponsorships of Lovette and his fellow mountain climbers benefit the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. The Elbit contingent has thus adopted the name: C2C-Climb to Cure.
“In the 1960s, the survival rate for those with leukemia was 14 percent over five years,” Lovette said. “Now, the rate is more than 63 percent and, today, it’s likely that my mother would have survived.”