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Father, Son Climbing to New Heights for Cancer

Vienna's Matt Forkas, a 20-year-old cancer survivor, will climb Mount Kilimanjaro with his father to raise thousands for their nonprofit HopeCam.

Matt and Len Forkas   Credit: Hopecam
Matt and Len Forkas Credit: Hopecam
By Karen Graham

Twenty-year-old Matt Forkas has faced some tough challenges since being diagnosed with cancer more than a decade ago.

But none of them are quite like the one he's tackling next week.

Along with his father, Len, the Vienna resident will  climb 19,341 feet up Mount Kilimanjaro this week in an effort to raise money for HopeCam Inc, a nonprofit the pair founded after Matt's diagnosis.

HopeCam, based in Reston, help childrens who are being treated for cancer overcome social isolation issues by working with families and their schools to set up classroom webcams  to link children to their teachers and friends throughout the school day.

"The webcams help so classmates can be there on the journey with the child and so they are not strangers when the child returns to school," said Susan Koehler, the group's executive director.

The program helps kids from feeling isolated, but it's also a " learning opportunity for classmates so they can understand the treatment process," Koehler said.

The Forkas team plans to spend two weeks in Tanzania, with the hike up Mount Kilimanjaro lasting one week. 

"This is Matt's first real test physically since he had cancer when he was nine," Len Forkas said.  "He has worked hard for the last 10 years to believe in his body again and now he's doing something that would be hard for anyone, nevermind someone who has been treated for cancer," Forkas added.

The father-son team plans to dedicate every day of the hike for a different child who has benefitted from HopeCam.

"While the journey we are about to do is really tough, it is nothing compared to what the children who are being treated for cancer are going through," Forkas said. "These kids have to get to the top of their mountain."

Matt Forkas' goal is to raise $20,000 by climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, which will provide HopeCams to 20 cancer patients.  

Matt understands the isolation and loneliness associated with being treated for cancer first-hand.  In 2002, when he was nine, he was diagnosed with leukemia and unable to return to his class.  His family came up with the idea to install a webcam in his classroom and at home, which helped him feel connected to his friends and classmates again.

Last year, Len Forkas completed the 3,000 mile Race Across America solo cycling race, raising almost $150,000 for HopeCam.  Matt, now 20, is cancer-free and is currently in his third year at Stetson University in Florida.  He is a digital arts major with a minor in business.

"I'm so proud of him serving as a role model for other kids," Forkas said.  He added that Matt's message to other kids being treated for cancer is that they have something big to look forward to and they will get their childhood back.

To follow the progress of their climb up Mount Kilimanjaro, use #hopecam on Twitter. You can also visit hopecam.org.

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