Mark Mullen isn’t one to shy away from getting outside of his comfort zone.
On Friday, the 48-year-old Spartanburg native will join more than 70 people rappelling 100-plus feet over the side of the AC Hotel Spartanburg on West Main Street. The inaugural event, called Over the Edge Upstate, is an effort to raise funds for the Cancer Association of Spartanburg & Cherokee Counties.
“(Rappelling) takes me way out of my comfort zone, and I just love it,” Mullen said. “And if I can raise any awareness to the fact of getting screened and that there are so many great cancer resources here in town, that’s what I want to do.”
Mullen’s reasons for participating in Over the Edge are also personal. In January, he was diagnosed with an aggressive type of prostate cancer. It was a diagnosis that seemed out of the blue for him, his wife and their two teenage sons.
“It had kind of caught me way off guard. The doctor basically just dropped a bomb on me and said, ‘You have prostate cancer,’” Mullen said. “As far as prostate cancer goes, 48 is very young. And I had absolutely zero symptoms.”
His father had prostate cancer but wasn’t diagnosed until his 70s, he said.
Mullen’s cancer was discovered during a routine blood test that showed high levels of prostate-specific antigen, a protein produced by prostate cells. The blood test measures the antigen levels to help detect early prostate cancer.
Mullen said he was referred to a urologist who told him he’d need a surgical biopsy to remove the cancer. Without wasting time, Mullen visited with an oncologist in Spartanburg and schedule the surgery for Feb. 19.
“It’s a slow-growing cancer, thank goodness, but he being at a younger age, added to the aggressiveness of the cancer, caused a lot of concern,” said Mullen’s wife, Keenan.
In addition to his family, Mullen found support with a local branch of F3 nation. The free fitness program for men meets three mornings a week at Barnet Park to work out and share in fellowship.Mullen said he was motivated to get healthier before his surgery, and his 17-year-old son joined the group with him as extra motivation.
“Those guys helped him through it, emotionally and spiritually,” Keenan Mullen said.
Six weeks after the surgery, Mullen said he returned to the doctor for testing to measure antigen levels and check whether the cancer had spread to his lymph nodes. The doctor’s news of a zero antigen level and no cancer detected was welcome.
“We got the best news we ever could have gotten,” Keenan Mullen said.
Mark Mullen said his doctor informed him he wouldn’t need to undergo chemotherapy because of the surgery’s success, but he has recommended Mullen do radiation to ensure antigen levels don’t rise again.
“I beat a lot of statistics,” Mullen said.
In early February, the Mullens said they saw an article in the Herald-Journal about Over the Edge Upstate. Mark Mullen immediately knew he wanted to participate and raise money for the Cancer Association.
Participants needed to raise at least $1,000 through online fundraising pages to secure one of the 100 rappelling spots.
Mullen said he didn’t waste time creating a Facebook page, sharing his story and why he wanted to raise money for cancer awareness. A few minutes later, his first donation came in, he said.
“I put my goal for $1,500, and one of my best friends growing up gave the $1,500,” he said. “I called him and was a little emotional and teary-eyed. He said that was the least he could do.”
The goal of Over the Edge Upstate is to raise $150,000 for the organization. As of Saturday, fundraising surpassed $163,000.
The funds raised will help provide free services to diagnosed cancer patients including nutritional supplements, wigs, medical equipment supplies and in-kind gifts.
“We have such a wonderful Cancer Association here in Spartanburg that does a lot of things for a lot of people with offering resources,” Keenan Mullen said. “This money will hopefully provide care or funds for other people.”
More than 80 donors have helped Mark Mullen raise about $7,600 for the Cancer Association. As the top individual fundraiser, he will have the honor of rappelling over the hotel first on Friday.
While he’s excited to rappel and raise money for a good cause, Mullen said his larger message is to bring awareness to cancer screening.
“I missed a year of my annual physical because I got busy and didn’t go. Well in that year, my prostate-specific antigen had elevated up to a level where it was cause for concern,” he said. “Even if one person can get screened and detected early, then it’s worth the effort.”