Cancer patients face an uphill battle, and it’s a climb that Andrew Buerger wants to end in its tracks.
Through Jodi’s Climb for Hope—an annual trek to the top of mountains around the world—he’s made some significant strides. The organization, named after his sister, Jodi, has raised $750,000 for breast cancer research at Johns Hopkins, with more than 75 people taking part in the climbs over the last decade.
“My goal was to find a cure before my sister passed away,” said Buerger, founder of Baltimore-based B’More Organics.
She passed away in May 2009, and his work continues.
“I’m hoping we’re out of business (in 10 years),” Buerger said.
This weekend, climbers will take off for Mount Adams in Washington, ascending 12,500 feet. They’ve prepared by climbing as many stairs as possible, as well as pushups, pull ups and other upper body exercises.
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“A lot of it is mental toughness,” said Adrienne Peres, a climber who has been preparing with Crossfit classes and by hiking with a 50-pound backpack.
Peres is no stranger to the disease; her mother died of breast cancer in 2012, and she, too, carries the gene for the disease.
“This is my way of giving back,” she said.
This year’s expedition stands out for two reasons.
Not only is it the organization’s first female-only climb, but Buerger’s wife, Jennifer, will also take part in the trip.
Jennifer Buerger has multiple sclerosis. While she can’t climb using her legs, a special chair, with off-road tires and skis for the snowy part of the climb, has been designed to carry her to the summit.
The skis belonged to the late A.J. Linnel, a guide in the Tetons and well-known endurance athlete who was killed in a 2015 plane crash.
Guides, all of whom are also female, will assist with her journey.
“It’s very emotional,” said Buerger, a mom of two who was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in February 2008.
Dr. Leisha Emens, a researcher at Johns Hopkins University who is working on developing a breast cancer vaccine, has joined Jodi’s Climb on numerous excursions.
“I thought it was an amazing concept,” Emens said.
Bringing teams together and overcoming obstacles is very much a metaphor for medical research, she said.
Money raised through Jodi’s climb has helped fund Emens’ research into the development of the vaccine.
Emens’ study uses the vaccine to get your immune system to recognize cancer cells as something that doesn’t belong in your body, rather than something coming from your own tissues.
Emens has focused on Stage 4 breast cancer, which is what claimed Jodi Buerger’s life. She and other researchers at Johns Hopkins have completed a clinical trial combining the vaccine with low doses of chemotherapy in patients with Stage 4 breast cancer, and have learned that it produces new immune responses to the cancer.
Her hope is for cancer to eventually be treated as chronic disease—if not eliminated completely.
“We’ve made an amazing amount of progress,” Emens said.
The group of climbers leaves on Friday to begin their ascent up Mount Adams.
Jennifer Buerger said she feels a range of emotions, from anticipation to nervousness.
“In my day I was a mover and a shaker and an athlete,” she said.
To be carried to the top of Mount Adams is humbling.
Yet she knows she’s part of something huge.
“This has become much bigger than me,” she said.