The Cause

Judi’s Story

Judi Kearney moved to Milwaukee with her husband Jim in 1966, planning to stay two years.  As those things often go, they never left. Milwaukee became their permanent home for fifty-one of their fifty-two year marriage. After raising three children to teenagers and one to kindergarten, Judi decided she wanted to return to teaching. By an amazing stroke of fortune within a month she was offered a position at St. Sebastian School teaching first grade which she loved doing for twenty six years.  After she retired, she spent hours of her day in her gardens at their home on 74th Street.  In 2016, a year after their 50th anniversary, she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer.  After several months of aggressive chemotherapy she was declared cancer-free.  To say she and her family were ecstatic would be understating it. Her hair grew back; she found she had energy again; she was back to enjoying life.  Then, four months after she was declared healthy, the cancer returned. She was offered an experimental, also aggressive, form of chemo but she bravely decided enough was enough.  “I don’t want to be bald again”, she said, but her reasons went much deeper than that. On February 15th, 2018, at 2:37 in the morning, Judi died at Zilber Hospice on Honey Creek Drive.  She was not going to die on Valentine’s Day. That was something she would not do. Jim tells the story of how often students in his classes at Marquette High would say (twelve years after they had been in hers), “She was my favorite teacher” to which he would respond in feigned umbrage, “What!?” Judi Kearney touched many, many lives.

Brenda’s Story

Brenda Ray lived in Wauwatosa with her husband, Jon, and her two daughters, Kate and Allison, for 27 years.

Brenda, a talented court reporter herself, ran her own court reporting firm, Ray Reporting, from 1993 to 2009. In 2015, Brenda was approached by a court reporting firm located in Orlando, Florida about taking a job there and running their Midwest division. In the spring of 2016, after lots of consideration, Brenda and her husband Jon decided to move to Florida. On October 23, 2016, just a few months after Brenda relocated to Florida, symptoms of pain in her abdomen led her to the emergency room. After a CT scan, the emergency room doctor informed Brenda and Jon that they were concerned Brenda might have ovarian cancer. An oncologist confirmed the diagnosis soon after and Brenda was officially diagnosed with Stage III ovarian cancer. Treatment began immediately.

Brenda had her first round of chemotherapy within days of being diagnosed. After a few months of chemotherapy treatment, she had a major abdominal surgery in January 2017. Regular chemotherapy treatments followed from January through October 2017. Brenda’s husband Jon was by her side throughout the entire treatment journey. Brenda’s health began to rapidly decline in the fall of 2017 when her body no longer responded to chemotherapy. She was invited to participate in an experimental trial at the National Institute of Health (NIH). Brenda made it to NIH for one round of treatment but due to her rapidly declining health, this would be the only round of treatment she was able to receive at NIH.

On January 1, 2018, a CT scan revealed that Brenda’s cancer had spread to her intestines as well as her spine. Doctor’s determined that there were no more viable courses of treatment. On January 3rd, Brenda was transferred to a hospice care facility. Even in the hospice care facility, Brenda continued to fight. Day after day, doctors were amazed at her ability to hold on as long as she did. Brenda passed away on January 17, 2018. Her husband was by her side holding her hand, just as he had been throughout her entire 15 month fight.

While cancer may have won the fight against Brenda’s body, it didn’t stand a chance against her spirit. Brenda’s strength and bravery throughout the course of her treatment was inspiring. At every single check up, blood draw, and hospital visit, she either knew the individuals helping her or made a fast friend from a stranger, and they were ecstatic to see her every time she came back. Even during the toughest, most painful months of her life, she spread positivity and love wherever she went.

Countless individuals have described Brenda as a “Ray” of sunshine, a bright light, someone who lights up a room with her very presence.  Brenda was dedicated to making people feel that they were important and valued. Brenda was extremely brave, until her very last day. It’s not just Brenda’s bravery that left such a lasting impact on so many people, it’s the way she put it into practice. She did this by being the most loving, friendly, encouraging, and accepting person in every room she stepped into. Brenda’s legacy will live on forever in the individuals she inspired and loved.

Barbara’s Story

Barbara Smith was a loving wife, mother, sister, and friend to many.  Barbara had many passions in life, including playing cards, teaching as a college professor for 27 years, reading, music, and most of all spending time with her family and friends. Anyone who met her would instantly feel her warm and compassionate presence. She had a way to make everyone around her smile.

In early 2015, Barbara and her husband Gary had moved into their new home in Northville, Michigan which they had hoped to enjoy through retirement. Shortly after moving into their new home, Barbara began experiencing significant abdominal pains. Eventually she was rushed to the Emergency Room.  Not knowing what was causing these pains, several tests were run. Late April 2015, the test results came back there were dark spots that could indicate something cancerous. It was several weeks later when she was diagnosed with Stage 3C peritoneal (ovarian) cancer.

The two years to follow included three surgeries (peritoneal debulking, hysterectomy and ileostomy) and eight different chemo regimen treatments.  Through it all, Barbara was strong and remained in good spirits. She loved to laugh, despite the circumstances.  Her daughter recalls a time they were talking on the phone, when Barbara chuckled “I might not have any hair on my head, but at least I don’t need to shave my legs during chemo treatments.”

There was optimism from her oncologist that certain chemotherapy drugs could help her into remission. Unfortunately, that good news never came.  April 2017 Barbara’s health started to decline significantly. In May 2017, she was no longer able to undergo treatment and was moved to Angela’s Hospice Home Care in Livonia, MI.  On June 14, 2017 she passed away. While she may have physically left this world, Barbara’s spirit remains alive through her family and friends. Her legacy lives on through her daughters Bonnie and Beverly.