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Man's diagnosis provides new perspective and leads him to Everest

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An insurance policy changed Kirk Wilkerson's life.

Wilkerson, owner of Covenant Advisory Group, went to write an insurance policy on himself and instead of getting the preferred rates he had pictured, he was instead declined.

"I was in the best shape I'd been in in 20-plus years and needed some additional life insurance .... The underwriter explained that there was a protein in my blood that shouldn't be there."

Wilkerson, who had run a half marathon and was training for another, had been eating a diet high in protein and low in carbohydrates. He felt certain that was the cause of the protein, but made an appointment to see his doctor.

It turned out he had an "M spike" - an immunoglobulin protein that was elevated, and is a classic indicator of multiple myeloma. Multiple myeloma is a cancer of the cancer of the plasma cells in the bone marrow. Wilkerson was diagnosed with Smoldering Multiple Myeloma - which means he has pre-stage cancer, not active cancer.

"I had no symptoms at all," he said. "No pain, no fatigue - nothing out of the ordinary. My doctor told me to go ahead and do the marathon and then give my body a month to rest and we'd look at it further."

On April 3, 2016, he ran the marathon in Knoxville, Tenn. One month later he walked into Levine Cancer Institute in Charlotte.

"I've had every bone x-rayed, bone marrow biopsies, MRIs - every test you can have," Wilkerson explained. "I have no bone lesions or tumors or anything like that. With this elevated number, absent of any other, you are classified as having smoldering."

Wilkerson is currently on a 24 month regimen of chemotherapy that includes pills he takes at home as well as intravenous medications. The medications combined have been effective in helping treat multiple myeloma, and a third drug, which specifically targets his bone marrow, has provided tremendous progress.

"Technically I am part of a clinical trial," he said. "Within six months of this regimen my numbers have dropped 70 percent."

It was during one of his trips to Levine that one of his doctors, Dr. Saad Usmani, heard him talking about running a half marathon at Myrtle Beach. Usmani asked if he was a runner and said he had something he might be interested in.

"He gave me information on participating in Moving Mountains for Multiple Myeloma (MM4MM) program in March 2018 by climbing to Mount Everest Base Camp to raise funds and awareness for the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation," Wilkerson said.

Wilkerson has always been fascinated with Everest, and knowing the fundraiser would help to indirectly pay for his treatment made him want to do it even more.

"As a financial planner, I've done a lot of charitable planning and always pay attention to the efficiency of the charity. I don't want to donate to something that only donates 50 cents on the dollar," he said. "Ninety percent of every dollar raised by the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation goes to research or treatment protocols."

Wilkerson's goal is to raise at least $10,000 for MMRF. He's already working on fundraising as well as training for the 38-mile hike uphill.

"You can't duplicate 18,000 feet, but one of the things I can do is buy a mask-like respirator that will help me get accustomed to a reduced airflow," he said. "I will probably go up to Mount Mitchell, which is the highest peak on the East Coast, and hike."

He is dedicating the journey to the memory of his friend Cecil Geer, who passed away in October 2016 from multiple myeloma. While his body will continue to train for the journey, mentally he is prepared.

"God has blessed me tenfold," he said. "God has blessed our family very richly. Whatever I do publicly, the real champion of the cause is behind the scenes, my wife, Cindy. She supports me when I need pushing a little bit.

"I also have a tremendous staff. God has blessed me and surrounded me with people who make me a better person and who are there to support me."

His journey with multiple myeloma has been a blessing, he said.

"When you go from being the healthiest you've ever been to a month later walking into a cancer institute, your perspective on what's really important in life changes," Wilkerson said. "I was caught up in the rat race and all of a sudden life slowed down .... we aren't called human doings, we are human beings. Too often we are too busy to notice what's really important."

If you'd like to follow Wilkerson's journey to Everest and with multiple myeloma, you can follow a new blog he started, perspectivesfromchair7.com (named because chair 7 is where he always sits to take chemo.) To donate to them Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation, visit endurance.themmrf.org and click "find a participant."

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