Benita’s Story: A Celebration of Her Life, a Call to Do Better

September 13, 2016

 

It’s a rare experience to meet someone who truly shakes up your life, whose positive influence ripples outward far beyond what you could have imagined. That’s the effect Benita has had on everyone.

I’m board president of the Georgia Ovarian Cancer Alliance, and I met Benita in 2010 when she came to the organization in search of information. Despite her illness, she was vivacious. Benita expressed interest in serving the community, so we tag-teamed lunch-and-learns at her church and sorority, as well as events for the Survivors Teaching Students program and various other functions. It was Benita’s idea to bring Teal Tea events to her sorority, Delta Sigma Theta, educating hundreds of women about the disease.

My own battle with ovarian cancer began in 2006, when doctors found a cyst and advised we simply “watch it.” I should have asked what that meant. At the time, I had never even heard of a pelvic mass, and I didn’t until I had one surgically removed. Before the procedure, I looked nine months pregnant and suffered regular back, abdominal, and pelvic pain. These days, I tell women to keep a symptom diary. With ovarian cancer, the pain level will vary, but its existence will be a constant. I wish I had known. I was one of the lucky ones. My treatment ended in 2008, and I was diagnosed “NED” (no evidence of disease).

Benita wasn’t so lucky. Although the disease took her life, it never diminished her spirit or enthusiasm. On the outside, you’d never know how hard she was battling. She was infectiously bubbly and happy. I remember that summer before she passed away, she attended a New Edition concert at Atlanta’s Chastain Park. She invited all of her friends and sorority sisters, and everyone had a ball. It was so typical of Benita and her fight against cancer. She enlisted an army of women to help her and faced the challenge with a bedrock of cheerful determination.

By then, Benita had gone bald, but she was rocking it. She still wore makeup and put on her nice dresses and jewelry. She showed up every day ready to fight, volunteering five days a week but saving the weekends to enjoy life. A lot of us didn’t see her struggle’s dark side because she gave her cancer a nice outward appearance.

Benita enriched my life immeasurably and gave me a purpose in the volunteer world. When my organization needed a trademark attorney, she introduced me to her best friend, Lauren, who helped us through our legal struggles. Benita left me a legacy of awesome women I can lean on and a purpose that will continue to bring together the people, the resources, and the fellowship that we all need to survive ovarian cancer.

If Benita had access to better treatment options, she might be sharing her story today. Sadly, the standard treatment for ovarian cancer has not changed in 40 years. We must push for better options, including improved chemotherapies and chemotherapy protocols. Ovarian cancer treatments need to come into the 21st century. A survival rate of 1 in 100 is not good enough, but only research can change the statistic. People like Benita — and all women — deserve better.

 

Kim Emory, Gwen Key, and Gailtricia Fogg share more than just their home state of Georgia. They share the love and memory of their friend and sorority sister, Benita Osbey. Benita passed away from ovarian cancer in 2014 but she landed into their live and exploded with a vision to ensure more women knew about ovarian cancer. Everyone knows someone impacted by ovarian cancer. Share #WhoYouKnow on social media.