A woman who gave a lot before her life was taken | PostIndependent.com

A woman who gave a lot before her life was taken

April in Glenwood
April E. Clark
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
April E. Clark

The world needs more people like Kolleen Stacey.

She may not have been a celebrity or a household name. But Kolleen Stacey made headlines.

Her story is one I’ll never forget.

Kolleen Stacey was born Nov. 29, 1947, in Evansville, Ind. Over the next six decades, Kolleen made lifelong friends, married the love of her life, Bill, and had two children, Angie and Billy. Home for the Stacey family was a small town called New Palestine, Ind., where I was raised. The Staceys lived a mile or so down the road from my family. The Stacey kids and I rode the same bus. Billy eventually married my best friend and college roommate, Lynne, and they had two beautiful boys who were Kolleen’s pride and joy.

In November 1997, 50 years after she was born, Kolleen was diagnosed with Stage IIIC ovarian cancer.

“It took an entire year for me to be diagnosed correctly,” she would later tell Congress. “By then the cancer was Stage IIIC, an advanced stage of ovarian cancer with only a 38 percent chance of complete cure. Had it been discovered in an early stage, I would have had a 90 percent chance of complete cure.”

Such devastating reality might discourage a cancer survivor. Not Kolleen Stacey. She did not allow frustration get in the way of progress. Kolleen endured countless rounds of chemotherapy, radiation therapy and surgeries in her fight against what she dubbed a “terrorist she lived with every day.” There were days Kolleen thought she might give up, but her mission to educate and spread awareness of gynecological cancers’ signs and symptoms remained steadfast.

The world needs more people like Kolleen Stacey.

Kolleen was an advocate for women and cancer survivors. She was well aware of the haunting statistics: Every six minutes an American woman is diagnosed with gynecologic cancer, including cervical, endometrial, ovarian, peritoneal, tubal, vaginal and vulvar cancers, according to the University of California, San Francisco Medical Center. The fourth leading cause of cancer deaths among U.S. women, ovarian cancer is the most fatal and often referred to as the “silent killer.”

This did not silence Kolleen Stacey.

On Sept. 7, 2005, two weeks after undergoing chemotherapy, Kolleen Stacey sat before Congress looking absolutely beautiful in a black dress and pearls. She spoke frankly about her own fight with ovarian cancer and the need for legislation for added awareness and education on gynecological cancers. She worked with Sheryl Silver, Johanna’s Law Alliance for Women’s Cancer Awareness founder and president, and Rep. Dan Burton, R-Ind., to help pass Johanna’s Law, named for Silver’s sister who died from ovarian cancer. According to the Ovarian Cancer National Alliance, “the law would provide for $16.5 million for awareness and education through a national public service campaign that would include written materials and public service announcements.”

The world needs more people like Kolleen Stacey.

Johanna’s Law: The Gynecologic Cancer Education and Awareness Act was signed into law on Jan. 12, 2007. This year, the Ovarian Cancer National Alliance has requested that Congress fully fund the law with $10 million.

Kolleen did not stop there.

She worked with physicians to establish the Kolleen Stacey Ovarian Cancer Research Program. Such efforts rarely went unnoticed. Kolleen was honored with numerous awards over her 10 years of battling ovarian cancer. Even as the effects of cancer became to much to bear last week, Kolleen received the Ovarian Cancer National Alliance Spirit of Survivorship Award on Thursday, July 9. Sheryl Silver accepted the award in her honor.

Her closing remarks to Congress on Sept. 7, 2005, still ring true today.

“As children we hope to grow up to be big and strong. As adults we hope to be healthy and live a long happy life. If we’re not healthy, we hope that our experience will help the people around us to make the right decision,” she said. “Congress, by passing Johanna’s Law, each of you has a chance to make the right decision and give hope back to me, to women, and grieving families that have been victim of this deadly disease. This year, 28,000 women will die from gynecologic cancers.

“Together, Congress, we can do this,” she said. “We can educate people until scientists come up with an early detection test.”

With loved ones by her side, Kolleen lost her battle with ovarian cancer on Friday, July 10.

The world needs more people like Kolleen Stacey.

April E. Clark sends her love to Kolleen Stacey’s family and friends in Indiana today as she is laid to rest behind the church where her father preached. She can be reached at aclark@postindependent.com.

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