Newswise — Nina Shah, MD, may not be able to move mountains by herself, but she's willing to hike over them or around them—and across glaciers too—if it means advancing treatment for multiple myeloma. Earlier this month, Shah joined other myeloma patients, caregivers, and clinical providers on a three-day trek across Iceland’s spectacular landscape.

Part of the Moving Mountains for Multiple Myeloma Program, one of several challenges to benefit the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation (MMRF), the 2019 Iceland Fire + Ice Trek required hours of daily hiking across difficult and stunning Icelandic terrain—mountains, volcanoes, glaciers, geysers, hot springs, gorges, and waterfalls—to further the cause to which Shah has dedicated her career.

Shah is a hematologist-oncologist specializing in multiple myeloma and a member of the UCSF Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center. She chose to participate in this unique challenge to raise funds to benefit multiple myeloma research (she has raised over $13,000 to date) and to forge stronger partnerships with the patients and caregivers that she serves.

“There is something about how providers, patients, and caregivers relate to each other,” wrote Shah in her fundraising statement. “At first it’s an obligatory relationship. But eventually, it becomes a partnership. Over the past few years, I have begun to understand this evolution and, more importantly, live this blessing. Though my life is in many ways so different from that of my patients, in many more ways, we are all the same.”

“At the summit of the hike, our 20-person team stayed in a tiny hut with no running water,” described Shah. “We had to shovel snow and bring it back in to boil and filter so we would have water to drink. One of the patients and his best friend volunteered to be the snow/water captains. They shoveled and prepped all the water for the team. I was in awe of how many times I forgot that he was a patient—and I think he appreciated my forgetfulness.”

Shah developed a passion for cellular therapy and immunotherapy at MD Anderson Cancer Center before joining the faculty at UCSF in 2017. She was drawn to study and treat multiple myeloma for its vast spectrum of presentations, its rapid treatment advances, and for the opportunity to help patients manage an incurable disease that, owing to the success of so many new therapies, has become a chronic illness.

“Myeloma can be a chronic malignancy – what I call a ‘marathon disease,’” said Shah. “This was one of the main draws for me because it means developing a long-term relationship with patients. I’m a people person and I love this aspect of my job.”

Over time, Shah has watched the multiple myeloma community become increasingly active and close-knit. From mobilizing to form support groups to launching advocacy initiatives to celebrating FDA achievements, the community continues to grow and inspire her. The Iceland Fire + Ice Trek was an opportunity to further strengthen this partnership between patients, caregivers, and providers.

Upon completing this physically rigorous and emotional journey, Shah said she felt complete. “I feel like I have seen a better side of life and of myself. I know that over time these feelings get diluted with the rest of life’s tasks, but I am hoping I’ll take a sliver of that elation and add it to my daily routine, especially in the clinic.”