West Scranton resident Cindy Collins Kearney may have passed on, but through the annual Cindy Collins Kearney Memorial Breakfast, scheduled for Labor Day, Monday, Sept. 3, her family and friends have found a way to keep her spirit and wishes alive.
Kearney passed away on June 5, 2005, after a five-year battle with ovarian cancer. During her battle, she went through two major operations.
"Her friend, Barb King, called her prior to the (second) major operation and said, ‘Cindy, I just can't believe this is happening to you. I don't know why this is happening to you. This is just not fair,' and Cindy said, ‘Maybe it's happening to me so you don't have to go through this,' or anyone else," said Kearney's sister, Carolyn Collins Gratz.
Kearney knew that her struggle could act as a warning to others about the importance of being educated and aware of the early warning signs of ovarian cancer.
Gratz explained that her and Kearney's mother, Jean Collins, is a breast cancer survivor, and as a result, the two were always diligent about looking for possible signs for that, but both were unaware there was a connection between breast and ovarian cancer.
Kearney began feeling ill in the late 1990s but wasn't diagnosed until 2000, by that time the cancer was in stage 3.
"It's a disease that whispers. They call it the silent killer because it whispers, but also there are early warning signs," said Gratz.
Some of the symptoms of ovarian cancer include a feeling of being bloated; vague abdominal and pelvic discomfort; gastrointestinal symptoms such as gas, nausea, indigestion, constipation or diarrhea; back pain and fatigue; frequent and urgent urination; and menstrual disorders or pain during intercourse.
"If it is caught early, in the initial operation she (Kearney) was in stage 3, (but) if it's caught early, in stage 1, it is highly treatable," said Gratz.
To create an awareness of the disease, in an effort to try and prevent others from having to go through what she went through, Kearney never hid the fact that she was battling ovarian cancer and requested that her obituary state she had passed from ovarian cancer.
Following her passing in June of 2005, a small group of family and friends gathered together in September of that year to celebrate Kearney's life.
"Cindy was really big into…if anyone passed away that was important to us, like our grandmother, she would say, ‘Let's all get together on their birthday and celebrate her,'" said Gratz.
During the gathering, the subject of carrying on Kearney's wish to educate and create awareness of the disease was brought up, with a small group deciding they would fulfill Kearney's wish.
The group came up with the idea of holding a memorial breakfast the following year on what would have been Kearney's 50th birthday, Sept. 4, 2006, which happened to fall on Labor Day.
The first breakfast, held at the Inn at Nicholas Village, was so well attended the guests had to be split up into two rooms. Realizing they needed a larger venue, the breakfast's planning committee moved the event to the Radisson Lackawanna Station Hotel's Grand Ballroom, where the event has taken place ever since.
For the $30 admission fee, guests are treated to a breakfast of French toast, eggs, bacon and a complimentary mimosa, for those 21 or older.
A basket raffle is also held, which Gratz said has become one of the event's main draws, featuring prizes that include a weekend stay at a New York City hotel, golf packages, gift certificates to restaurants and more.
"We miss Cindy and we love her so much…and we want to celebrate her, and this is such a fun way to see people win these great items and support something that is so very dear to our hearts," said Gratz.
In a time when many businesses have scaled back with donations, Gratz and Collins said they have been lucky in finding people eager to donate to their event each year.
"Every year it gets better. It's just amazing in this economy that we are able to do what we do, I think," said Collins.
Even if you don't win anything, Gratz and Collins said there's still a lot going on at the breakfast to make the morning worth attending, including a live performance from musician Christopher Gratz.
All of the proceeds benefit ovarian cancer research and awareness through the Gilda Radner Familial Ovarian Cancer Registry, which Kearney became a member of in 2002.
To date, the breakfast has raised more than $73,000 to benefit ovarian cancer research and awareness.
In 2011, the Cindy Collins Kearney Memorial Breakfast committee put together a cookbook as another means to fulfill Kearney's wishes. Through the sale of the cookbooks, the group was able to raise an additional $5,000, for a total of over $78,000 in donations made in Kearney's name.
The group is looking to add to that total as much as they can this year.
Those interested in attending the breakfast are encouraged to make a reservation by Monday, Aug. 20.
For more information on the Gilda Radner Familial Ovarian Cancer Registry, visit www.ovariancancer.com.
What: The seventh annual Cindy Collins Kearney Memorial Breakfast to benefit ovarian cancer research.
When: Monday, Sept. 3 at 10 a.m.
Where: The Radisson Lackawanna Station Hotel's Grand Ballroom
Cost: $30 per person