Funnell was just over 40 and working as a consulting engineer for a Joburg mining company when he was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia (AML) in 2006. This was is after he noticed a bruise on his arm that wouldn’t heal.
“I had always been fit and healthy so it came as a big shock that cancer was spreading rapidly in my bone marrow.
“I was on put on chemotherapy and within no time I was in an isolation ward in hospital as I had no immune system.
“At that stage, I had no idea just how hard or how long the treatment was going to be and that it would totally change my outlook on life. My wife and young family were devastated to hear what was about to happen to our ‘normal’ life.”
While he was recovering in hospital, Funnell would shuffle out of his isolation room in the still of the night and slow-walk along the corridors.
He says when the nurses “moaned” at him to take it easy, the idea of climbing Kilimanjaro was inspired.
“For motivation, my wife put up a picture of Kilimanjaro on my room wall. By the middle of 2010, I was ready to make this dream a reality. It was such a spiritual experience, reaching the top of Africa’s highest point.”
Since 2010 he has climbed Mount(Mt) Kilimanjaro, Mt Aconcagua in South America and Mt Vinson in Antarctica.
He attempted to climb Mt Elbrus in Russia in 2012 but 100m from the summit he was held back by poor weather conditions.
Despite the setbacks experienced along the way, including the recurrence of cancer two years after his initial diagnosis, Funnell, who is currently in remission, refuses to give up on life. And this month he has gone back to Russia to reattempt his climb of Mt Elbrus.
This is the highest peak in Europe at an altitude of 5642m, and Funnell hopes to climb it in five days to raise awareness about cancer and stem cell donation.
“Not only do I want to inspire other cancer patients, but I also want raise awareness about the need for people to register as stem cell donors. If all goes well, we hope to be holding the Sunflower Fund banner high above our heads on August 17.”
Funnell says he wants other people to also benefit from the life-saving stem cell treatment, which saved his life 10 years ago.
“I was fortunate to have a perfect match with my brother and we made plans to have the stem cell transplant at the beginning of 2007. The stem cell infusion was uneventful and then it was a waiting game until the new bone marrow was able to produce new blood.
“It changed my blood type from A-negative to O-negative. Due to all the anti-rejection drugs, I had a weak immune system and lost a huge amount of weight. I was convinced I was cured, but in March 2008 a routine blood test showed I had relapsed. It was such a feeling of hopelessness.The oncologist was stunned that I had relapsed after the stem cell transplant,” he recalled.
After the relapse the only remaining option was high dose chemotherapy, which is about 20 times the concentration of the induction treatment.
The risks were high and this would be a real fight for survival. He spent most of the year between chemo treatments, blood transfusions and isolation wards.
“The treatment was very severe and left my body weak and anaemic. I had over 50 blood transfusions and therefore I am truly thankful for all the donors who kept me alive.”
Funnell’s experience opened up a new world and took away the feeling of limitations.
“Never give up on your dreams,” he says. “It may be impossible to get to the top of a mountain in one single step, but by taking many small steps you can climb any summit in your life. Just keep going, step by step, and a day at a time”
For more information on becoming a blood stem cell donor contact The Sunflower Fund on the toll-free number 0800 12 10 82