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The Front Line
The Front Line: Charles D. Blanke, MD, SWOG Chair


Climbing Kilimanjaro with a Party of 200,000

Jan 9, 2015 - You've heard about it before (and are likely to again) -- I'm climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro next month to raise awareness of the importance of cancer clinical trials and to raise funds to help offset the shrinkage in federal support for our efforts within the NCTN. We're about one-third of the way to our Kilimanjaro Climb for Cancer Clinical Trials fundraising target of $250,000, and are launching a final publicity push on multiple fronts.

I want to be aware every step of this climb that it's also made to honor the more than 200,000 patients and healthy volunteers who have enrolled in SWOG clinical trials over the 7 decades. To that end, I'll be bringing them along. We're having the initials of as many of these participants as we can identify printed on an honor banner, which I'll carry with me to unfurl at the 19,000+-foot summit. I'll also be bringing a second banner, with the names of those generous donors who are able to contribute to the effort.

My training for the climb is progressing well (here's a brief video about it). To acclimate my body to the hypoxic atmosphere near the summit, I've rented a high-altitude sleep system, something like an oxygen tent but with precisely the opposite effect, and am now sleeping every night at 13,000 feet. I've spent many hours over the past few months racing up staircases and charging up hills here in Portland, and periodically more exciting places, when I travel on SWOG business (including a recent Andes climb). I head out to the Columbia Gorge and the Cascades every chance I get to build endurance, practice skills, and test out gear -- especially cold-weather gear (most recent piece of cold-weather gear acquired -- a shabby appearing but highly functional full beard).

SWOG is not doing this alone. The Alliance, the Children's Oncology Group, and ASCO's Conquer Cancer Foundation have all been working with us to help get out the word. The Mazamas mountaineering organization and Paul Steger, who will be leading the Kilimanjaro expedition, have been helping guide my training. Fellow SWOG member Dr. Brett Sheppard, who directs the pancreatic cancer program at OHSU's Knight Cancer Institute, will be my climbing partner. Those of you who have given generously to the cause are also a very real part of the climb (as are those of you who still plan to contribute). And finally, the roughly 200,000 volunteers who've taken part in SWOG clinical trials over more than half a century are not only the ultimate underwriters of this effort, they're also the primary inspiration for it. I'll do my best to honor them.


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