Taking her voice right to Washington

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By Kirsten Laskey

When speaking to the national government, it may sometimes feel as though your voice grows fainter on its way to Washington, D.C. Starting today, Los Alamos resident Kay Kerbyson is bringing her voice right to government officials’ ears.

Kerbyson is participating in the Ovarian Cancer Research Program, which the Department of Defense sponsors every year.

The program is handled through the Department of Defense rather than the Department Health, she said because it was believed funds would be received quicker.

The department is setting aside $20 million to fund different ovarian cancer programs. Most of the programs will run about three years.

A panel determines which programs should receive funding.

Proposals compete with each other. Kerbyson explained panel members appraise proposals on their own individual merits and then the entire panel scores the proposals. The proposals will then be sent to an integration panel.

Kerbyson serves on the panel through Friday. She is one of nine consumer reviewers who work with scientists. She does not have to understand the science but her input on how the science would impact her and her community is needed.

To prepare for this role, Kerbyson said she was given 20 different proposals by researchers from universities and medical centers.

There have been some out-of-the-box ideas, she said. Some propose to go to the Amazon to discover plants for cancer cures while other suggest gene therapy, or manipulating genes to recognize and kill cancer.

She will also bring her own experience with ovarian cancer to the table. Kerbyson was diagnosed with the cancer in 2006. Her husband was also diagnosed with cancer two years prior.

A resident nurse at the University of New Mexico-Cancer Center informed Kerbyson about this panel.

To get on the panel, she needed to be nominated by a community organization related to cancer. Kerbyson said Bernice Williams, the president of Los Alamos Council on Cancer, provided her with a letter of support.  

Additionally, Kerbyson needed to provide a resume and an essay about how she solves problems, how she deals with making decisions and how she keeps updated on ovarian cancer.

She had to participate in an initial screening process and then take part in a telephone interview.

When Kerbyson received notice that she was accepted on the panel, she said, “I was overwhelmed. There are hundreds of women who apply each year to be on the panel. I felt like I had a chance to make a difference in ovarian cancer.”  

Kerbyson said she believes she is the first woman from Los Alamos to serve on this panel.

The decisions that this panel will make have a significant impact on the quality of treatment. Action appears to be necessary, looking at the statistics.

Kerbyson said the survival rate of ovarian cancer has been stagnant the past 20 years. It remains at 30 percent.

It is a disease that is not widely known. Kerbyson said 80 percent of women who are diagnosed find out at a late stage in the cancer because they are not educated about the disease.

“We really need a scientific breakthrough to make a significant difference,” she said.

She added, “It’s so fascinating to find out that people really are taking this seriously.”  

There are scientists who sit in labs, and never come in contact with a cancer patient, but they are still trying cure this disease, Kerbyson said.

Her personal goal for being panel focuses on education. “I want to improve my knowledge of ovarian cancer,” Kerbyson said. “What treatments are coming through?”

Kerbyson has been very active locally on spreading awareness about ovarian cancer.

Last year, she started a website called Ovarian Cancer Together, which informs members what treatments are coming through.

“It’s about spreading hope that there is better treatment to come,” she said.

Besides her website, which had 2,000 hits during its first year and recruited 15 members, Kerbyson also served a secretary on the Los Alamos Cancer Council in 2007 and provided a motivational speech for this year’s Relay for Life.