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Local backpacker’s diagnosis became inspiration

By From page A1 | April 17, 2013

“When I met my wife, I told her she was one in million, and I was right — unfortunately,” said Davis resident Marc Lancet, husband of Annette De Bow, who has a blood cancer occurring in that proportion of the population.

De Bow, 47, was diagnosed with polycythemia in 2008. She discovered she was afflicted by this rare disorder — for which there is no cure — six months after the birth of the couple’s daughter, now 5 years old.

Polycythemia is part of a family of three myeloproliferative neoplasms, which are a related group of blood-borne malignancies that affect the bone marrow’s ability to function properly in the development of blood cells.

The life expectancy for this progressive blood cancer can be up to 20 years with treatment. However, it also can develop into myelofibrosis, wherein the bone marrow of an individual halts the production of blood.

But there’s no lamenting on the part of De Bow; she is transforming her diagnosis into an opportunity to pursue one of her life’s passions — backpacking. She’s also finding a means of fighting back, by fundraising for research into potential treatments.

De Bow launched Trek for a Cure in 2011 to fulfill both purposes. On her first trek, she backpacked 225 miles of the John Muir Trail from the Yosemite Valley to the top of Mount Whitney, and raised $30,000 in the process.

She’s committed to raising even more — as much as $50,000 — through an upcoming hike. Every penny is needed for research and education; due to its rarity, her disorder is seldom studied.

“Raising money in this capacity really does make a difference,” De Bow said. “My goal is to be able to raise enough money to fund an entire research project, which is not entirely out of the realm of possibility.”

She and a group of 20 to 30 others will hike 190 miles, from Lake Tahoe to Yosemite, July 14 through Aug. 6. De Bow is recruiting sponsors who will donate money to the cause for each of the many miles ahead of them. Hikers may join the trek for all of part of the distance. Even her husband laughed and said, “I think I can manage about 36 miles of it.”

De Bow will be there every step of the way, partly because of her penchant for the outdoors and its auxiliary healing properties. She recounts how she was objectively healthier after the first trek than before: “I have to take a chemo drug every day. I went on this hike, and I wasn’t really that good at taking it as often as I needed to, because of the hassle of keeping it in a bear-proof canister. Honestly, I would forget to take it sometimes.

“But when I got off that mountain, my blood hadn’t looked so good. I went to the doctors, and they took me off the chemo for a couple of months. … It really did something for me that was very beneficial.”

Hiking more than 200 miles is an especially notable accomplishment for De Bow, given that one of the daily struggles for sufferers of polycythemia is fatigue.

“It’s not your typical, ‘I’m tired, so I’ll take a nap,’ it’s an all-over fatigue,” she said. “That’s probably the number one complaint for people with polycythemia. I think the drug itself can also make me even more tired.”

For those without De Bow’s enduring stamina, there are other opportunities to assist her mission. Sponsors may donate at trekforacure.com.

Two events are coming up to benefit her cause. Outdoor Davis, 623 Second St. in downtown Davis, is offering a 10 percent discount on merchandise and an informational talk at 7 p.m. Friday, May 3. Fifteen percent of all merchandise sold from that point until the hike begins will go to the trek.

A benefit concert is also slated for Saturday, June 15, at 3 p.m., featuring multi-instrumentalist Emily Wells. Tickets to the show at Plainfield Station, 23944 County Road 98 in Woodland, will be $20.

Those interesting in participating in a portion of the hike, or all of it, should contact De Bow at [email protected].

“If people are interested in doing the hike, that’d be phenomenal,” she said. “It’s something that’s important to me.”

— Reach Brett Johnson at [email protected] or 530-747-8052. Follow him on Twitter at @ReporterBrett

Brett Johnson

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