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Aug 3, 2016 11:13 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

She Battled Cancer And Now Looks To Conquer A Mountain

April Jakubauskas cuts five-year-old Bowen Jacobs' hair at Choppin Charlies. KELLY ZEGERS
Aug 3, 2016 11:22 AM

When April Jakubauskas was on the transplant floor of Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in August 2013, she spent more than two weeks on complete lockdown, having no immune system, not even enough to fight off a common cold.Each day, she would sit on the windowsill of her hospital room, looking out on Manhattan, dreaming of escaping her confines and going on big adventures—if she survived.

A few months earlier, the 52-year-old Sag Harbor resident had been diagnosed with an aggressive form of multiple myeloma, a form of blood cancer that prohibits the creation of white blood cells, called plasma cells, that help the body fight infections.

But following two transplants—the second of which took place that August, when she accepted a modified stem cell, called a T-cell, from an anonymous donor in Germany—Ms. Jakubauskas is now in remission.

And the popular village barber is now making plans to knock the first item off the bucket list she created while trapped inside her hospital room three years earlier: climb Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania.

“It was very shocking, life-changing, and I just thought it was the end,” Ms. Jakubauskas said of her ordeal, noting that every day is still a challenge for her, both mentally and physically.

As difficult as her day can be at times, she is now preparing to fulfill a dream that was hatched three years earlier in her hospital room thanks to an invitation from the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation and sponsorship from Takeda Oncology, a unit of Takeda Pharmaceutical Company Limited.

“After a year of serious recovery, I am back and ready to conquer the world,” she wrote on her fundraising page for the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation.

While incurable, it is a treatable disease. Ms. Jakubauskas said her doctors, nurses, family and friends gave her hope throughout her treatment. “I really made it my mission to get myself as strong as I could mentally and physically, going to a lot of therapy, antidepressants and just through my friends and family keeping me positive,” she said.

Ms. Jakubauskas was invited to the climb two months ago after attending a MMRF fundraiser. It is set to take place in February 2017, and until then she is tasked with raising a minimum of $10,000 for the research foundation, with the goal of raising awareness and funds for myeloma research. Her friends are donating to the cause, along with many of her customers at her barber shop, Choppin Charlies in Sag Harbor, helping her raise about $5,000 so far, she said.

“It’s very coincidental that a lot of people know someone that has been affected by multiple myeloma, it seems,” she said of those who donated.

Her climbing team of 16, who she recently met at a training climb of the 14,000-foot-high Mount Bierstadt in Colorado, includes six myeloma patients like herself.

While the trek will cross a big adventure off her list of dreams and show herself that can take on a challenge, Ms. Jakubauskas said she wants to take herself out of the equation and think of other people that are going through the trials of illnesses.

“We have people that are climbing that are actually still on chemo and doing this,” she said. “It’s very important for them—and it’s also very important to let everybody know, it’s not the end. You really could keep that hope going and accomplish things. You can get through the mountains of the disease and also go live a dream.”

Until the hike in February, Ms. Jakubauskas will train for the 19,341-foot climb, which will spread out over six days, by pushing for two hours each day on a stair climber at the gym while wearing her equipment pack. On the first climbing day, the team plans to reach 8,900 feet, with stops at massive glaciers, and drastic shifts through different terrain, moving from jungle to high desert to snow.

She is dedicating her climb to the memory of her mother, Suzanne, and grandmother, Margaret who she said were both travelers. She also is climbing for her anonymous stem cell donor, her “angel.”

“This girl took days from her life to go to the hospital and get on this blood machine that takes the blood out, filters the stem cells out, put the blood back in her,” she said. “She saved my life.”

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Best of luck April- you were cutting my hair thirty years ago over at your dad's place on jobs lane. My family and I wish you the best!!
By Lets go mets (377), Southampton on Aug 3, 16 9:17 PM
Good luck!
By wmmw (6), East Hampton on Aug 6, 16 7:19 PM
All the best, April. Your Dad, gave my children their first haircuts, now you are cutting the next generation!
By Hamptonsseashell (359), on Aug 10, 16 2:19 PM