Their friendship started when Maire’s cancer fight began in November 2012 as doctors linked the young woman’s flu-like symptoms to cardiac sarcoma. She had a decision to make – let the raging tumor in her heart take her life in the next few short weeks, or wage an all-out fight.
Anyone who knew Maire, a United States Army Private First Class, would know that she was going to fight, and fight she did for the next 11 months. Her journey recently came to an end with friends and family saying their final farewells today. Maire was 24.
Maire’s cancer journey has been documented by an Emmy-winning producer for the documentary, “Embrace of Dying,” which will be released next year. The special film will celebrate her life and bring attention to the newly created Maire Kent Memorial Fund for Cardiac Tumor Research at the University of Michigan Frankel Cardiovascular Center.
Research into cardiac tumors is needed but funding is scarce because of their rarity. Malignant cardiac tumors primarily affect young adults in the prime of their lives, and once diagnosed a patient’s life span is just nine months to a year.
The most common malignant cardiac tumor is sarcoma, a rare connective tissue cancer which comprises less than 1 percent of all adult cancers and can occur anywhere in the body, including the heart.
Much can be learned from these heart tumors, not only about sarcoma, but other cancers. Because of their location, malignant heart tumors grow at a much more rapid rate than other cancers in the body. Their behavior depends on which chamber of the heart they grow from.
Maire underwent grueling months of treatment with chemotherapy, but cardiac sarcomas tend not to respond to chemo in the way others cancers do. No one understands the genetics or molecular biology of heart tumors and new research could be a rare opportunity to learn about personalized cancer therapy.
“She was an extraordinary, young woman who always offered doctors a smile even on the toughest days,” says Dr. Leja who provided care along with Dr. Rashmi Chugh, a medical oncologist at the U-M Comprehensive Care Center. “She never complained and faced her diagnosis with courage, determination, and a maturity way above her age.
“When she knew that treatment would likely not prolong her life, she wanted to give back to the world and have her short young life have meaning. She wanted others to know her story to bring awareness to this devastating disease so that another person would not have to go through her difficult journey.”
To donate to the Maire Kent Fund for Cardiac Tumor Research go to http://victors.us/mairekent.
The Cardio-Oncology Program at the University of Michigan Frankel Cardiovascular Center treats patients with cardiac tumors and collaborates with cancer specialists to prevent and minimize heart damage caused by chemotherapy and radiation.