Dr. Monica Leja with Maire Kent in July at Hudson Mills park.
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.
Dr. Monika Leja with Maire Kent at Sunday’s Stomp out Sarcoma run.
I ran with my hero today! It would be a breeze for most 24-year-olds like my patient Maire Kent to take part in the Stomp Out Sarcoma 5K run and be first at the finish line.
But Maire was diagnosed with a cardiac sarcoma in 2012. Cardiac sarcoma is a rare malignant tumor that grows directly from the heart.
The condition has taken its toll on her and there was no way she would have the stamina to run the three miles even though a few years ago she ran a marathon. So I agreed to cover the distance for both of us, pushing her in a wheelchair decked out in maize and blue.
At one point, Maire had to help push us along the last hill because I was running out of gas in the heat. Together we made it to the finish line. This gives us hope that working together we can overcome this deadly disease!
There are many different types of sarcomas that attack bone, muscle, fat, or cartilage. Most of these patients are young and in the prime of their lives and many are even small children.
I grew up in Michigan, and returned to be part of the University’s new Cardio-Oncology program. More of these programs are starting across the country and cardiologists like me work with cancer specialists to minimize the impact of chemo and radiation on the heart. The U-M’s program is unique in that we also have the expertise to care for those with heart tumors.
During our long work weeks, physicians can get caught up in the daily grind of medical records, rounds, and meetings. Sometimes we forget why we are here: the privilege of taking care and being a part of our patients’ lives and families.
Today I was pushing Maire, but she and the many other patients and families out there, are pushing me to find answers and improve outcomes.
Ironically we finished several paces behind Anne Maxwell, a 25-year-old from Clarkston diagnosed last spring with a sarcoma found in her hip. Anne ran this weekend, not just in Sunday’s Stomp Out Sarcoma 5K, but in a 15K Bastille Day run the day before.
Maire is my hero and she keeps me going with her courage and smile. We finished in just under 38 minutes, amazingly not last!
Monika Leja, M.D., sees patients in the Cardio-Oncology program at the University of Michigan Frankel Cardiovascular Center. She treats cardiac tumors and collaborates with cancer specialists to prevent or minimize heart damage caused by chemotherapy and radiation.
The University of Michigan Samuel and Jean Frankel Cardiovascular Center is the top ranked heart and heart surgery program among Michigan hospitals. To learn more, visit the Heart and Vascular page on UofMHealth.org.
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