ANCHORAGE (KTUU) Musher Paul Gebhardt is a tough competitor. He's run dog teams in 21 Iditarods, and finished in second place twice. Gebhardt is now running the toughest race of his life. A race against time, and cancer.
Musher Paul Gebhardt undergoes cancer treatment Monday in Seattle. (Photo courtesy Kristin Gebhardt)
"I have to be super careful about bacteria and colds and any type of infection, like through the foods that we eat or anything like that" Gebhardt said from an apartment in Seattle on Sunday night. He was preparing to check in to a Seattle hospital for one last round of chemotherapy before starting stem cell treatments to rebuild his immune system.
Gebhardt experienced sever, unexplained pain during the 2017 iditarod. Months later, a fall from his horse lead to a hospital emergency room visit in Soldotna, where doctors discovered in September of last year that he has multiple myeloma, a form of cancer that attacks blood cells, bones and the immune system.
After undergoing weeks of chemotherapy in Soldotna, Gebhardt's treatment shifted to Seattle. Gebhardt says doctors there have warned him that it will take a year or more after the stem cell treatments for his immune system to recover, and he will have to take precautions to avoid infections.
"Unfortunately, when they get rid of my immune system, some of the rules are don't handle animals, don't dig in the dirt, don't be around plants, everything that I do for a living. The last thing on the list was don't do any carpenter work, and I'm like just like 'ok, c'mon... you know, give me a break!' : Gebhardt said with a laugh, because he owns a construction company.
Gebhardt mentioned the cancer battles that other mushers have experienced, and how they show the importance of keeping a positive attitude. "DeeDee (Jonrowe) went through it, and Lance (Mackey) went through it, you know, and now I'm going through it and you gotta keep a good outlook on life that you can beat the sutff and go on with the way you were living, probably better because you'll have a little more respect for life it self, you know?" Gebhardt said.
Gebhardt's daughter, Kristin, will be at his side to care for him as he recovers from the stem cell treatments. "My dad is the kind of person that, just because there's a mountain in front of him, he's not going to go around it or take a different path...he's going to go over it" Kristin Gebhardt said, "and that perseverance in life is just carrying through with this phenomenally and he's taken this and said 'ok what do i need to do?'. There's never been a hesitation."
Both Gebhardt and his daughter say they are grateful for the well-wishes, and financial support he has received from Alaskans to help cover his medical expenses. "It's just been overwhelming the amount of support." said Kristin Gebhardt. "You know people are there for you, but when something like this comes around, it's just a completely humbling fact of how many people care, and we are so thankful."
Paul Gebhardt has set his sights on a goal: to once again run the Iditarod.
"I sure hope so" he said, adding "that's the plan. I don't want to leave last year as my last."