By Carrie Wood
Fifty was Mary Anne Kobylka’s magic number.
She hoped to reach her 50th birthday this September.
The number 50 also represents what could be her final legacy – Kobylka hoped to raise $50,000 for ovarian cancer research after being diagnosed with Stage 2 ovarian cancer in 2004.
On an evening in July, between sucking ice chips to help moisten her mouth — a side effect from morphine — and vomiting, Kobylka spoke with The Reporter’s Carrie Wood about her fight with late-stage ovarian cancer and why fundraising is so important.
She was first diagnosed with ovarian cancer after a routine exam found carcinoma cells.
“I was feeling fine, I didn’t have any symptoms,” said Kobylka, who lived in the Totem Lake neighborhood with husband, Richard, and two sons David, 11 and Alex, 9. “I was walking my boys home from school when the doctor called and left a message on my answering machine that he wanted to talk to me and I knew it was bad news.”
By her sixth round of chemotherapy in six months, she had lost her hair and felt tired.
Searching for some inspiration, she went on the Internet to look for ovarian cancer survivor stories. That’s when she found the Swedish SummeRun, an annual triathlon event that has raised more than $3 million for the Marsha Rivkin Center for Ovarian Cancer Research.
Not the athletic type, Kobylka first walked a block around her neighborhood. And then swam another block around her pool.
During succeeding chemotherapy treatments — which lasted six hours — she would envision herself as an enduring, energetic, Lance Armstrong-type of competitor, “coming out of the water and everyone’s cheering and I’m winning a gold metal,” she recalled. “I would go into a daydream state and whenever I started thinking about the triathlon, I was happy and excited and whenever I started thinking about chemotherapy, I’d feel depressed again.”
A month later and still tired from her last treatment, she signed up for the Swedish SummeRun with seven friends and “Team Mary Anne” was born. Every donation that came in lifted her spirits, and her group raised $7,000.
That was countless triathlons ago, and since then Kobylka has competed in the SummeRun event every year. Last year, “Team Mary Anne” was the top fundraising team, with $47,433 donated to support ovarian cancer research. Kobylka was also named the SummeRun Survivor Honoree.
“When your a cancer patient, you’re a victim – you’re told what to do, told to eat this, or you can’t eat this, or give me your arm, or don’t use your arm,” she said. “Being in a triathlon, you’re in control. It’s a metamorphosis. You feel so strong and so in control and so powerful – the absolute opposite of everything cancer puts in your face.”
Even when Kobylka’s cancer came back strong in 2005, her new found sense of celebrating life through competing in triathlons became her life’s motto.
“Take your day and live it because that’s all you got,” she said.
And she did just that.
Last year, when doctors told her they didn’t know how much time she would have left to live, she and her husband made a list of everything they’ve always wanted to do: a trip to Europe, Disney Land, camping, take the boys to spend time at a cottage on the lake in Michigan that Kobylka went to when she was a child. The family did it all.
There’s was just one thing left for Kobylka to do, and that was to raise $50,000 by Sunday, July 26, the date of this year’s SummeRun event in Seattle.
“It’s crazy this year,” she said of “Team Mary Anne,” which now has more than 40 members, half of whom she doesn’t even know.
Though she recently called on hospice and doesn’t know if she will feel up to participating in the event, she asked long-time friend, Lisa Kreissler, to take over the management and organization of “Team Mary Anne.”
“It was a very difficult phone call,” said Kreissler, of Sammamish. “Months earlier, Mary Anne had told me that she would make this call if she needed to, but I never wanted the call to come. ‘Team Mary Anne’ will be Mary Anne’s legacy.”
Kreissler, who describes Kobylka as an “inspiration” and the “real thing,” added she was honored to take over as team captain because she cares so much for her friend and wants her work to continue.
If her team reached $50,000, that would bring the cumulative total of the team’s donations over the years — and Kobylka’s six years of dedication to cancer research — to $200,000.
“That would be a pretty nice mark,” Kobylka said. “Pretty good for one individual and look how disorganized I am.”
Kobylka passed away earlier this month.
Team Mary Anne went on to raise $69,283.11.
“Fifty would be Nifty,” she had always said.
To learn more about Team Mary Anne, and SummeRun, go to community.swedish.org.