My dad and I shared a passion for adventure. He proudly referred to me as 'The World Traveller' and loved hearing stories about my trips. In January 2013, I had just returned home after two weeks in East Africa and was eager to share with him stories about my adventures. However, my excitement was soon shattered by Pop's own, unexpected news: that he was diagnosed with advanced stomach cancer. My family and I were completely shocked and devastated.
This marked the beginning of an 11-month battle against one of the deadliest types of cancer; a struggle characterized by my dad's unwavering courage and determination to live each day to its fullest. Although Pop passed away on December 10, 2013, two days after my birthday, I believe that his indomitable spirit lives on, and is a source of strength and comfort for me today.
Throughout my life, Pop was my inspiration: he was driven, ambitious, funny, generous and hardworking. He always led by example, and I admired his boundless energy, can-do attitude, and optimism. "Onward and upward!" was a phrase he'd often say when something didn't turn out the way I had planned. He encouraged me to think positively, be proactive, and look forward, not back.
My dad always believed in me, and taught me that any goal can be achieved through courage, hard work and determination. So in honor of my amazing Pop, who moved mountains for my family and me, I am planning to climb Mount Kilimanjaro: the highest mountain in Africa and the tallest free standing mountain in the world. As I was travelling in East Africa when Pop was first diagnosed, it is symbolic for me to return to the region to climb my first mountain.
Through this climb, I would like to raise awareness about stomach cancer, which is the second leading cause of cancer death among men and the fourth among women worldwide. Despite this, stomach cancer receives virtually no media attention, and has the least amount of federal research funding per cancer death in the US. As a result, families are often blindsided by this diagnosis, and treatment options for patients are extremely limited.
Pop never stopped fighting to live, and I am here to continue his fight. In February, I became head of the New York Chapter of Debbie's Dream Foundation: Curing Stomach Cancer, a nonprofit organization dedicated to raising awareness about stomach cancer, advancing funding for research, and providing education and support internationally to patients, families and caregivers. For more information, please visit their website: http://www.debbiesdream.org/.
My personal goal is to raise $6,600 dollars, representing what would have been Pop's 66th birthday on November 20th this year. He tried so incredibly hard to survive and make it to 2014, and in his absence, I would like to symbolically achieve this goal for him.
Thank you so much for your support, love and friendship on this journey. I am grateful for any and all of your contributions to this cause. Together, we can make the cure for stomach cancer a reality. In the words of Pop, "Onward and upward!"