NUTLEY — Mike Mankowich had always considered himself a "tough guy" — a former collegiate wrestler who almost never got sick. So when he was diagnosed with multiple myeloma three years ago, the news came as such a shock that he kept it from his wife, Kathleen, for nearly a week.

But now, the couple is fighting the incurable blood cancer together. Mike's levels eventually got low enough as to be undetectable, but he said the support of his wife, and his own positive attitude, played no small part in getting him to that point.

Their fight recently took the Mankowiches to South America, to the Patagonia region, on a trip sponsored by the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation. Kathleen said she found the MMRF in her research about the disease, and discovered that the group heads up a variety of such trips, to places like Mt. Everest, Mt. Kilimanjaro, and Machu Picchu.

These excursions are just one way the MMRF furthers its mission of raising funds to support research to find a cure. For Mike and Kathleen, going global also provided a chance to share their story with caregivers and other patients, and to spread awareness.

"It was an incredibly bonding experience for all of us, and I just can't even begin to say what a benefit it was to both Mike and myself that we were able to go and to participate," Kathleen said.

Mike said that the 12-day getaway included six days of hiking — a cumulative total of 60 miles — that served to prove to himself, and others, what he is still capable of doing despite his illness.

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Together the Mankowiches raised $30,000 of the $250,000 raised for the MMRF through the trip. With pharmaceutical company Celgene and CURE Media Group picking up the costs, all of that money will go toward helping to find a cure for multiple myeloma.

"Every dollar we raised is going toward research," Mike said. "There's no overhead costs, nothing like that, 100%."

Mike was so energized by his time in Patagonia that he signed up to go to Greenland with the MMRF this year.

For more on multiple myeloma, visit themmrf.org. And to donate to Mike and Kathleen's cause, click here.

Patrick Lavery is Senior Producer of Morning News and Special Programming for New Jersey 101.5, and is lead reporter and substitute anchor for "New Jersey's First News." Follow him on Twitter @plavery1015 or email patrick.lavery@townsquaremedia.com.

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