For two years, MaryAnn Kirkby had a nagging cough.
Test results didn’t show anything abnormal, so the Pickerington seventh-grade social studies teacher went on with her normal daily routine, unsuspecting to what was happening to her.
In December 2006 a test result finally showed what had been the root of her cough – stage 3 lung cancer.
"The cancer was located in such a spot that despite all the tests, it just didn’t show up for almost two years," Kirkby, 60, said.
It’s an issue the doctors and patients have faced with what is considered the deadliest of all cancers. In fact, in 2004, lung cancer accounted for more deaths than breast cancer, prostate cancer and colon cancer combined, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Despite advancements in technology, early detection of lung cancer isn’t always possible.
"By the time it’s typically discovered, it’s in an advanced stage," Kirkby said.
Now in stage 4 after the cancer metastasized to her spine, Kirkby takes each day and lives it the best she can.
Despite having lived a healthy lifestyle, she’s realistic about her chances of survival. With a five-year survival rate of only 15 percent, lung cancer is one of the deadliest.
But she remains hopeful and says doctors are optimistic. After all, she points out that doctors are in a field that if they don’t hold on to optimism, the field of medicine would not exist.
Kirkby also looks at the cancer as a way she can do what she can to spread the word about a cancer that despite afflicting an estimated 215,000 new patients this year, lags behind other forms of cancer in funding and public support.
Last fall, Kirkby’s family started a fund with Ohio State University called the MaryAnn Kirkby Living with Lung Cancer fund.
Administered and directed by the Pulmonary Medicine Division of the OSU Medical Center, the fund seeks to broaden and deepen awareness of the severity of lung cancer and to provide resources and support for the benefit of patients and their families.
"We knew we would never raise a significant amount of money needed for research dollars, but wanted to see money go to families dealing with lung cancer," Kirkby said.
As part of National Lung Cancer Awareness Month in November, OSU and Kirkby’s friends and family will hold a balloon launch with proceeds from the event going to the Living with Lung Cancer Fund.
The event will take place at 11 a.m. Nov. 1 at Bloch Cancer Survivors Park, located at the northeast corner of Lane Avenue and Olentangy River Road on the Ohio State campus.
Contributions of any amount are sought to honor or memorialize friends and loved ones who have been or are facing cancer, particularly lung cancer.
Gifts are made to OSU and earmarked for the Kirkby fund. The family receives no financial benefit and does not name the fund’s recipients, Kirkby said.
"My hope is that there will be hundreds of balloons," she said.
Lung cancer is the second most common cancer in both men (after prostate cancer) and women (after breast cancer), according to the American Cancer Society. It accounts for about 15 percent of all new cancers.
During this past summer, Kirkby had a vertebrae removed from her spine, where the cancer had spread.
"They’ve kind of pieced me back together for a while," Kirkby said.
She is undergoing chemotherapy currently for the third time.
"I’ve learned it’s not fun, but you get through it," she said.
When it’s difficult to get out of bed in the morning, all she has to do is think of the support she’s received, she says.
"It has been incredible," Kirkby said. "I must say that before I was diagnosed with cancer, I never knew how many people out there truly cared about me. I knew my family did and my doctors would take good care of me, but I’ve been overwhelmed by the amount of support I’ve received."
How to sponsor a balloon
If you wish to sponsor a balloon in someone’s honor, you may:
• Call or write Kim Collins, Medical Center Development, at (614) 293-4927 or at email@example.com.
• Make a gift online by visiting www.giveto.osu.edu/igive/onlinegiving, type in "Kirkby" in the search field, press go, select the "Mary Ann Kirkby Living with Cancer Fund" and proceed.