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Marine Ball brings joy of season to cancer patient

Dawn Brazell | MUSC News Center | December 3, 2014

Marine Ball
Sarah Pack

U. S. Marine Cpl. Terry Profit jokes around with cancer patient Kendra Crosby as they set the details for attending the Marine Ball. 

Kendra Crosby looks fabulous in red.

And, she loves nothing more than to be flying through the wind on the back of one of her four horses, something she misses as it has taken much of her energy to get through multiple surgeries and several rounds of chemotherapy.

Marine Ball
Photos Provided
Crosby enjoys being decked out in red at the Marine Ball Nov. 22 that she attended with Cpl. Profit. 

That she looks great in red is a new find, but then again, Crosby is only 20. It can take time for women to know these things about themselves, particularly as she is more at home on a horse than in a ball gown.

Crosby got a chance to learn just how good she looks in red at the recent Marine Ball Nov. 22 at the Francis Marion Hotel. Marine Cpl. Terry Profit asked officials at the Medical University of South Carolina’s Hollings Cancer Center if there was a young cancer patient who might enjoy attending the upcoming ball, and Crosby came to everyone’s mind.

The two got to meet just before the ball when Profit made a visit to the hospital where Kendra was receiving treatment and they set up details for the big night. Profit told her how much he was looking forward to the ball.

“You’ll be my personal guest of honor,” he said, decked out in his dress blues uniform, his hat in hand.

“Thank you so much. I’m so honored,” she said. “I tweeted about it.”

Profit smiles shyly, uncomfortable being in the limelight. “You’re fighting a way bigger battle than I’ve ever thought of. I have a lot of respect for someone who’s actually fighting for your life. You are motivation for me.”

“You’re awesome,” she said, obviously touched. “It’s cool to meet someone who understands it’s a hard fight.”

And that’s what happens when two people with big hearts first meet.

Profit, 28, went to boot camp Oct. 10, 2011, to honor his uncle who was a Navy Cross recipient and died in Vietnam. The North Charleston native plans to be a drill instructor and said he wrestles with managing his temper at times. He’s quick to say he’s no hero.

“I just want to make better leaders in the military and then in the civilian world,” he said of his plans to be a drill instructor. He’s an interesting mix of tough and tender. “I want to become the person my grandmother wanted me to be. She was a very humble person – very even-keeled,” he said.

Marine Ball
Sarah Pack
Cpl. Profit came to MUSC to visit Crosby while she was in the hospital. 

Meeting Kendra was inspiring to him. “It seems she’s upbeat even with what she’s going through.”

That’s the sentiment of her friends and many of those involved with her care at MUSC. Crosby found out she had cancer at her first gynecological exam when she was 18.  She had no warning symptoms. “It was terrifying,” she recalled.

Crosby had made it to a pivotal moment in her life. The Walterboro native and ‘preacher’s kid’ had left home to work on a horse farm in Greenville. She was giving riding lessons and enjoying her first real taste of independence.

She had to call her mother, Kay, an ICU nurse in Walterboro, and father, Ricky, pastor of Shiloh Baptist Church, from the doctor’s office. “I said my doctor is about to call you with some news. I’m really sick. She said, ‘Stop, this isn’t funny.’ I said ‘Mom, ‘I’m serious. I may have cancer.’ She said, ‘I’m on my way.’ My dad thought I was pregnant. Later, he said he wished I had been pregnant.”

Crosby came home and consulted Jennifer Young Pierce, M.D., a gynecological oncologist at MUSC, and found she had Stage 3 ovarian cancer. They scheduled her surgery as soon as possible and she had a radical hysterectomy, had her appendix and the top capsule of her liver removed, her diaphragm scraped and portions of her bladder, bowel and abdominal lining removed on July 5, 2012.

Six weeks later she started chemotherapy, which she had for six rounds every three weeks until Dec. 12, 2012, when she was considered to be in remission. She then started a maintenance chemotherapy treatment and decided to go back to school to become a nurse.

Unfortunately, Crosby began to not “feel quite right” and had to withdraw. Shortly afterward, she found a lump in her groin and felt it was growing. A biopsy came back positive. “A CT scan showed little spots like everywhere.” Crosby said she had her second surgery Dec. 5, 2013, where her doctors removed small tumors they had found, and recently she had to have another surgery just before the ball.  Ironically, the medical terms she struggled to learn in nursing school come easily to her now, she said.

She’s grown up fast. She and her family have adapted to life with cancer.

“My relationship with Jesus is a lot stronger. If it wasn’t for him, I don’t think that I would still be alive. There would be no purpose in life for me. That’s just how I feel. I appreciate life a lot more – the blue in the sky and the green in the grass. I take more time to notice details that I overlooked before. I’ve learned to find joy in everything, even though it sucks to have cancer.”

Kendra Crosby
Photo Provided
Crosby helped her friend, Kaila Bishop (pictured left), when her then fiancee was diagnosed with cancer. 

When Crosby’s best friend became engaged and found her fiancée had cancer, she asked Crosby if she minded talking to him. Not only did Crosby take the time to visit, she checked on him regularly and helped him through some harrowing moments, some of which he almost didn’t survive. The two still have a special bond.

She also took the time to set up a fund to help other patients with ovarian cancer and, with the help of friends, held a walk of awareness in her hometown of Walterboro this year that raised $1,700. Crosby said she hopes to start a non-research fund for oncology gynecological patients who have few resources to provide financial support, such as assistance with transportation or lodging.

“We’re just in the beginning process of doing this. I don’t know why I have cancer, but I think it’s to help other cancer patients.”

As Crosby talks about her plans, various hospital employees stop by to check on her, even some not assigned to her floor. Dr. Pierce, who arranged for Crosby to have her hair and make-up done on the day of the ball, said this isn’t unusual. There’s a quality deep down - her courage and her ability to find the joy in small things – that inspires everyone around her.

“From the moment I met Kendra, she has amazed me with her spirit and her joy.  She has never let ovarian cancer define her or get the better of her,” she said, adding that on some days she knows Crosby has had to fake it.

“Since her diagnosis, she has jumped out of a plane, traveled, continued to ride horses and teach gymnastics, and most recently organized a walk to raise money for other ovarian cancer patients.  She has managed to do all of this while receiving treatment for cancer.”

Marine Ball
Photo Provided
Nurses Sarah Mathes, Katlyn Chace, Jennifer Leitzell, and Megan Utsey help Crosby (center) get ready for the ball. 

Crosby is quick to return the praise, calling Pierce awesome.

“She makes me feel like I’m her one and only patient. I know she does that to all her patients, but she really makes me feel like she cares about me. We get carried away talking about kids and horses, and I’ll tell her, ‘You have other patients to see. Go, see them.’ She makes me feel I’m part of her family.”

Pierce is constantly looking into possible new treatments and the latest clinical trials.

“It says a lot about her and her heart for it that she’s checking into trials for me. Sometimes she’ll cry, and I’ll say ‘Dr. Pierce, I’m not crying so you have to stop.’ But I know she doesn’t like operating on this young body.”

Crosby hopes to go to Israel in the spring on a church tour to retrace Jesus’ steps and see the places she grew up hearing about. When asked how she stays so positive, she shrugs. “From the beginning I realized I don’t have a choice. I can sit at home and be miserable all the time or I can get out and do stuff while I find joy in life.”

Kendra Crosby
Photo Provided
Crosby loves to compete and ride for fun. 

She also somehow has the maturity to know she’s blessed. One good part of her cancer journey is how much closer she’s grown to her family and friends, particularly her mother. “She will stay up as late as I need her to even if she has to work the next day,” she said of her mom. “She’ll sleep in the bed with me if I need comfort. Or if I have an accident in the middle of the night, she’ll clean me up. It doesn’t matter what she’s doing, she’s going to be there.”

Crosby has her eyes open to those special moments. She holds them in her heart and treasures them, such as the ball and meeting Cpl. Profit, someone who like herself enjoys nothing better than bringing someone else joy.  

When asked about the best part of the ball, Profit said that it was being able to offer the magic of an evening. “I just liked to give her something that for one night she could forget about all the trouble she’s had. My favorite part had to be knowing she was enjoying herself even though she was in pain.”

Crosby, who was back in the hospital shortly after the ball for further treatments, said she had a great time, even though she didn’t get to dance. “It was wonderful,” she said, getting out her phone to show off some photos.  “I liked watching this community of people who put their lives on the line every day for their country yet know how to loosen up and celebrate with a party.”

She shows off a picture of herself in her red dress. “I did feel like Cinderella.”


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