Siblings hike to raise money to battle cancer
NEW CANAAN — In 2010, Bernadette Coogan Hess was subbing for a principal with multiple myeloma, a common, yet deadly blood cancer, when she found out her mother had the same disease. Bernadette’s mother, Eileen Coogan, a Wilton resident, had been diagnosed with dormant multiple myeloma in 2007, but waited to tell her children about it until she needed treatment three years later.
“It’s very her,” said Hess, who moved from New Canaan to Wilton in 2005. “She’s such a protector.”
“She said, ‘I didn’t tell you this long because I didn’t want you to worry,’” said Bernadette’s younger brother, Colin Coogan. “I took it to heart. I was worried, but tried to stay positive.”
Coogan, a New Canaan resident, had never heard of his mother’s rare disease, but Hess’ substitute job made her a little more familiar with multiple myeloma and its prognosis.
Just under half of people diagnosed with multiple myeloma survive longer than five years, according to the National Cancer Institute. Eileen Coogan, however, has already survived twice as long as the average.
Since being diagnosed, the siblings’ mother has been on oral chemotherapy and steroids, working with doctors in Manhattan and Boston, and the disease hasn’t slowed her down. A nurse, she went to conferences and did research on her disease to learn more about what she was facing. A grandmother of 10, she has traveled across Europe with her grandchildren— a gift for them when they turn 10 — and is heading on an Alaskan cruise this summer with two of her grandchildren.
“She is so determined and quite a force,” said Hess, a mother of four who works in Wilton public schools. “With a lot of support, she’s not stopping.”
Now Hess and her brother, who works with their father at a green-based design business, are teaming up for a trip to give back to their mother. This May, the pair will participate in the Moving Mountains for Multiple Myeloma program and hike the Bright Angel Trail in the Grand Canyon to raise money and awareness for the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation.
The siblings say they owe their mother’s decade-long survival post-diagnosis to the foundation.
“The most incredible thing about the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation is how many new drugs they’ve helped push through,” Hess said.
“It’s always good for us to give back,” Coogan added. “If it wasn’t for the drugs, Mom wouldn’t be here.”
Coogan and Hess have a middle brother who lives in Massachusetts, but decided to do the hike together due to their shared love of the outdoors. Both participated in an outdoor-education program as teenagers and Coogan hiked the Grand Canyon with friends when he was 16.
“We’ve always been close,” Coogan said. “It’s a great opportunity to raise awareness and bond with other people going through what we’re going through.”
The two will fly out a few days before the hike to bond with other members doing the program, all of whom have been touched by multiple myeloma in some way. They’ll hike the eight-mile trail and back in a day.
The two hope to raise $10,000 before their hike in May. Out of the money they raise, 90 percent will go toward multiple myeloma research. The siblings are planning to conduct some fundraising events to help them reach their goal. In the meantime, they’ve been training and breaking in new hiking boots for the big day.
“We’ll both be in tip-top shape by that time,” Hess said.
And while the entire Coogan-Hess family has come together to raise money for research before, hiking this exclusive trail for the disease is a big event in their fundraising history and something both siblings feel compelled to do.
“In this situation, you feel like you want to do something,” Hess said. “This is something we can do.”
To contribute, go to endurance.themmrf.org/2017GrandCanyon/bernadettehess