FEATURE | Posted June 1, 2016

UC Davis cancer patient on a quest to the top of Africa

Stem cell transplant survivor hopes to inspire other cancer patients and raise myeloma awareness

Nancy Dziedzic’s face lights up as she talks about the vast African wilderness. The exotic animals. The beauty of the terrain. The all-consuming freedom of the outdoors.

Nancy hiking with her dogs
Nancy hiking with her dogs

“I get an adrenaline rush every time I think about it,” she said. “There’s just something about the desolate wilderness that’s so peaceful and relaxing, and I’ve always wanted to see the wild animals in their natural habitat.”

Dreaming about an African safari since she was a child, Nancy finally gets to embark on the adventure, determined to not let anything stand in the way — not even blood cancer.

Diagnosed with multiple myeloma in September 2014, Nancy has endured many challenges of cancer— an arduous stem cell transplant, long hospital stays and coming to terms with the possibility of living with the disease the rest of her life.

“I’ve learned you can’t put things off anymore,” she said. “You have to make most of the good days.”

And she’s planned a lot of them.

The great outdoor adventure

On Feb. 17, 2017, Nancy will set out on an eight-day journey to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest free-standing mountain in the world. Joining Moving Mountains for Myeloma, a sponsored team that is raising funds for myeloma research, is the opportunity Nancy said she wanted.

“I finally get to go to Africa while also raising money for an important cause,” she said.

The 15-member group includes researchers, caregivers and other myeloma patients who are approved by their physicians to participate.

“We all have a common goal of climbing the mountain to create awareness for the disease,” she said.

Nancy also hopes her desire to achieve this feat inspires others to help her reach a $10,000 fundraising goal.

Physical activities make big difference in cancer battle

To prepare for the 19,000-foot climb, Nancy has intensified her training regimen, increasing time spent at the gym, adding weekend hiking trips and planning high-altitude practice climbs.

In addition to helping prepare her for the Kilimanjaro trip, staying active during and after cancer has made a big difference in Nancy’s experience with the disease. Regular evening walks with her dogs helped her cope with the diagnosis and find healing, for example.

“It’s important to get up and move,” she said. “A change of scenery puts you in a different state of mind and gives you a different outlook. Plus, the more active I was, the less pain I had.”

Don’t stop dreaming

She hopes her Kilimanjaro journey will inspire other myeloma patients to stay active and strive to live life to the fullest.

“You can have goals and achieve them,” she said. “Don’t stop dreaming. Your dream doesn’t have to be Kilimanjaro, but set goals no matter how small and build up. Anything is possible.”