HEBRON, Ky. – Jim Detwiler believes he can move mountains.
That’s not only a metaphor about his life – Detwiler returned home Sunday night from climbing Mount Everest. But the deputy superintendent of Boone County Schools lives by those words as he struggles with a disease for which there is no cure.
“He’s an individual that will climb the highest mountain to do something great for everyone,” said Susan Pastor-Richard, one of Detwiler’s many friends who gave him a surprise greeting home at the airport Sunday night.
Detwiler didn’t climb the highest mountain on earth because it was on his Bucket List. He did it specifically to raise money for research for a cure for multiple myeloma. He came down with the form of blood cancer In 2016.
"I’m kind of early in my journey. It’s called smoldering multiple myeloma, where you just watch and wait until you hit a threshold where the benefits of the treatments will outweigh the quality of life," Detwiler said.
He climbed because finding a cure is probably not going to come in his lifetime, though he said researchers are “so close.”
“When I was diagnosed, doctors said it was incurable. Today, they’re starting to use ‘chronic disease,’ ” he said.
And yet, Detwiler is realistic.
"It feels kind of hopeless. What are you going to do?” he said. “I heard about this climb. This is a way for me to fight it now, but not just for me, but for other people diagnosed later on.
“Moving that mountain. Mountains are movable,” he said. “That’s the mantra we’re working under.”
Detwiler takes inspiration from his family, from other disease victims and from a class of second graders at Shirley Mann Elementary in Union, Kentucky, that adopted his cause. The second graders signed a stuffed animal for him and Detwiler took it on his climb.
“This particular second-grade class chose the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation for the topic of their research and their service learning. They adopted me. I just felt like, ‘Hey, we’ll jump on and we’ll learn together,’ ” Detwiler said.
“They gave me my own Spark that they had signed. Gave me an opportunity to take Spark up the mountain, and make a connection when we were there.”
The welcome home caught him by surprise, he said.
“I’m overwhelmed. Didn’t expect this at all,” he said. “The community has been so supportive for the entire trek. The climb. This just proves what a great community this is. I’m overwhelmed. I don’t know what to say.
“I’m tired. I want a burger.”
The journey took 12 days, Detwiler said. He was part of a group of 16.
“It was hard. Harder than I thought it would be. It took us six days to get us to base camp 17,500 feet above sea level. “Oxygen level is 50 percent of what it normally is. It’s hard to breathe at that altitude and climb.
“Over 60 miles total hiking over the 12 days.” The climbers raised more than $210,000 for the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation, he said.
Before he left the joyful surprise at the airport, Detwiler had already planned his next climb.
“Go home and go to bed,” he said. “But there’s always something to do. This is just the beginning. The beginning of my Multiple Myeloma journey. We don’t have a cure yet, so we have to keep fighting for that.”