Brittany Kirby, 17, was devastated when she lost her grandmother, Joan Gregg, in June to uterine cancer. Kirby was just four years old when her grandmother received her first diagnosis of cancer – colon cancer. Tenacious and resolute, Joan beat her cancer – not once, but twice. In June, however, she succumbed to the devastating effects of uterine carcinosarcoma, a rare but highly aggressive cancer.
“My Nana was like a mother to me,” said Kirby, a senior at Rosman High School in Rosman, North Carolina. “I could talk to her about anything. She was the strongest person I’d ever known.”
Still reeling from her loss, Kirby knew she had to, in some way, honor her grandmother’s battle against cancer. After being assigned her senior project, Kirby submitted a letter of intent to her English teacher. Her proposal included writing a research paper on uterine cancer. She would also organize numerous activities to help raise awareness among the 300 students making up her small high school.
“After receiving approval, I sold cancer awareness ribbons to my classmates,” Kirby said. “I designated a different color ribbon, representing a specific cancer, to each school day. I also sold custom designed tee-shirts and organized other fundraisers, including Pink Out, an event held in conjunction with Senior Night.”
Brittany’s grandmother and grandfather, Scott Gregg, of Mebane, were married for more than 30 years. The couple raised two daughters, who in turn gave the couple two grandchildren, one being Brittany.
“My wife would be very proud of Brittany,” Scott said. “She’s a lot like Joan – smart, strong and very caring. Through her awareness efforts, Brittany has truly honored her grandmother’s legacy.”
Driving more than four hours from her home in Balsam Grove, North Carolina, Kirby and her grandfather recently visited the Duke Cancer Center, where Joan was treated. Kirby presented a check for $1,500 to the Duke Cancer Patient Support Program, a program that proved invaluable to Scott and Joan.
“I am very grateful for the assistance Joan and I received through the patient support program,” Scott said. “Joan was my best friend; we discussed everything. However, when she was battling cancer, I couldn’t talk to Joan about Joan. We both met regularly, together and separately, with Tracy Berger, a phenomenal marriage and family therapist who helped us navigate the rollercoaster emotions.”
Kirby is now setting her sights on graduation, in the spring, and college, in the fall. However, she remains committed to keeping the memory of her grandmother alive through her ongoing awareness efforts and support of the Duke Cancer Institute.
“I’ve learned so much through this experience,” said Kirby, who after graduation plans to pursue a nursing degree. “I know a lot more about cancer, how it affects lives and the support needs of families of loved ones living with cancer. I’ve also learned a lot about the Rosman High student body. We’re small, but we’re family. I’m very grateful for the terrific support I received from my classmates, my teachers and the community at large.”
For more information on the Duke Cancer Patient Support Program and the many ways to support the program through volunteerism or giving, visit the dukemedicine.org.
Circle photo (top): After losing her grandmother to uterine cancer, Brittany Kirby, 17, decided she didn’t have to be loud to be heard. Simply reaching out to students and faculty at her high school and sharing “Nana’s” story, the high school senior is not only raising awareness but also funds to support the Duke Cancer Patient Support Program. Kirby is pictured here with her grandfather, Scott Gregg, at a recent visit to the Duke Cancer Center.