A West Richland woman who worked tirelessly to raise awareness about ovarian cancer has died.
Kay Kerbyson was 49.
She started the support and advocacy group Ovarian Cancer Together! after her own diagnosis several years ago.
Among her many accomplishments, she spearheaded the “Teal the Bridge” tradition, in which the cable bridge is lit up in teal each September to bring greater attention to the disease and its symptoms.
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Teal is the color associated with ovarian cancer, and September is National Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month.
Before Teal the Bridge, the cable bridge had never before been lit up for such a cause.
“Kay helped countless people — family members, patients,” said Elizabeth McLaughlin, director of the Tri-Cities Cancer Center Foundation. “She had a real passion to help others. She was a great example.”
Kerbyson was diagnosed with the disease in November 2006. At the time, her doctor said she had a 15 percent chance of surviving five years.
She went through several rounds of remission and recurrence.
As she dealt with her health struggles, she was committed to saving as many other women as possible from the same situation.
Ovarian cancer is the deadliest gynecologic cancer. The five-year survival rate is high when the cancer is found early, but many cases aren’t caught until the more advanced stages.
Kerbyson herself had early symptoms, but wrote them off as part of everyday life.
After her diagnosis, “she wanted to get the message out to look for symptoms,” said her husband, Darren. “She wanted to help.”
Exactly how many women she helped is hard to say — but the number is sizable, said Jon Schliep, who became involved with Ovarian Cancer Together! after his wife, Karla, was diagnosed, and now is president.
“She gave (ovarian cancer awareness) a name and a meaning and a life in the Tri-Cities,” he said.
And she did it with grace and aplomb.
Even when she was in the midst of treatment, “she was never a victim,” Schliep said.
“You’d see her after rounds of chemo, the disease just pounding her, and she was still a superhero,” he said. “She took a tragedy, a horrible thing in her life, and turned it into something positive. Not everyone can do that. She found a way to turn it around and help others in her community, all across the world.”
Kerbyson was passionate about her advocacy work, but her top priority was her twin daughters, Abby and Hannah, 12.
The girls have their mother’s strength, Darren said, and “they’re going to grow up knowing the good work she did.”
Darren said he’s proud of all Kay accomplished. “She’s done a lot,” he said. “She was strong, determined. (Her legacy is in) her strength, her determination, her compassion.”
Kerbyson wrote columns for the Tri-City Herald about living with cancer. In a March 2015 piece, she wrote about the grief that cancer causes.
“As cancer survivors, we grieve for the life we had, but also the life we may not see: the weddings, the grandchildren, growing old with those we love,” she wrote.
“I lost the life I knew and the life I expected tomorrow. Sometimes my grief is all consuming. So, the clouds will overcast my thoughts and the rain will fall as tears. But I know that I am trying to live the best life that I can for my daughters, for the people I love, and those I can help along the way. And that’s when the sun will shine.”
Einan’s at Sunset is handling arrangements. A celebration of life will be held, but details haven’t yet been finalized.