In April 2014, Kathy S. Harkey a beloved wife, mother, daughter, sister and friend died at the very young age of 57 as the result of a two year four month struggle with a deadly disease known as breast cancer. During her struggle, she, with the help of her doctors, theoretically, did all the right things. She chose one of the most prestigious cancer centers in the world, M.D. Anderson. She followed up with a second opinion at the Mayo Clinic. She was administered at least 20 different gut wrenching chemotherapy drugs, had her breast and lymph nodes removed, underwent two months of radiation, had more than 25 CT scans and participated in three different clinical trials. Countless hours were spent researching drugs, procedures, surgeries and clinical trials which might keep the disease in check. Unfortunately modern medicine had no answer. The cancer eventually spread to her liver and she succumbed after a most valiant fight at a far too young age.
Sadly, her unbelievably difficult struggle is not a unique story. While modern medicine is continuing to make significant strides in breast cancer research and treatment, a cure is still elusive. Despite decades of research into more effective preventive screening, diagnostic testing, surgical treatments and chemotherapy, much work remains. Indeed if funds spent on Kathy’s treatment were all it took, her monthly medical bills of $20,000 to $50,000 a month surely should have done the trick. Unfortunately, successful treatment of breast cancer is not about the quantity of dollars spent, rather the quality and availability of effective treatment. Kathy’s smart young oncologist lamented that the clinical trials offered were often both distant, expensive and in our case, subject to a bureaucracy which would make the federal government proud. Kathy was turned down by several promising clinical trials based solely on geography or enrollment limitations. Bureaucratic delays were both frustrating and heartbreaking. It is our belief that quality research, effective treatment and promising trials must be brought down to the local level and not offered only in the massive bureaucratic cancer centers. As they said on the comedy show Cheers “You wanna go where people know, people are all the same, you wanna go where everybody knows your name”. Your doctors and nurses should remember your name, know your goals, and treat you with the effort and respect you deserve.
One of Kathy’s greatest regrets was not about her own limited time, but rather all the things she would miss. Not seeing her children and grandchildren grow up, get married and live their lives caused her the greatest sadness. The Kathy S. Harkey Breast Cancer Foundation intends to support local doctors, researchers, clinicians and support organizations that are willing to fight on and commit to extending the lives of those they treat. A cure for breast cancer in the classic sense might not be found in the immediate future. However, to the patient whose life is extended by even a few more months by our collective efforts, maybe this is a cure.