Lynda King, left, is thanked by Healing Garden Executive Director Margaret Koch, joined by King’s sister, Michele McCoole. / courtesy photo
Faced with death, she helped others
By April M. Crehan / email@example.com
Eight years ago, Concord resident Lynda King was told she could not be cured. In just two short months, she went from finding a lump to a diagnosis of metastatic breast cancer with a prognosis of two years.
But King fought back: chemotherapy, two mastectomies, rounds of radiation, a hysterectomy, hormone therapy and finally, last September, the creation of Lynda’s Kause, a non-profit to fund metastatic cancer research and patient support.
"She’s been a woman on a mission," said her sister, Michele McCoole, who watched her tired sister lovingly as she spoke of the recent decision to discontinue chemo for King.
"I had a plan," said King, who was heavily involved in decisions about her treatment course at Emerson’s MGH Cancer Center. "I’m a fairly pragmatic person," King said of attending support groups that she says were akin to library research. "I would try to learn as much as I could. What can I learn from her and her chemo that I can use for my chemo?" she would ask herself.
"[King] in particular was very courageous and very much interested in not having cancer control her, but rather her control the cancer," said her doctor, Jon DuBois. "I don’t know if all cancer patients have that strong will and inner strength to do what she has done. For that, I am forever admiring her as a person, not just as a patient.”
King raved about DuBois and the nurses at Emerson. "You couldn’t convince me to go to Boston. There’s no reason to," she said, recalling how DuBois listened to her and considered her quality of life, and comparing it to the feeling of just "being a number" to some previous doctors.
King’s research into metastatic cancer treatment led her to a January 2014 study from Cornell University in which researchers attached nano-scale liposomes to leukocytes (white blood cells), turning them into constructed natural killer cells that attack cancer cells in the bloodstream. Michael King (no relation) heads the lab responsible for the research. His blood cell investigations led to the observation that cancer cells travel in the blood vessels similarly to white blood cells.
"We came with that kind of unique perspective from a little bit outside the cancer field and that's when we had our big breakthrough," Michael King said. His team bound TRAIL (tumor necrosis factor-related aptosis-inducing ligand) to leukocytes and found that the treatment incredibly effective in circulating blood. "Anytime a cancer cell then gets into the bloodstream, all it has to do is bump into the white blood cells and it will die within a couple hours," he explained. "It's quite remarkable. In our experiments we conducted so far, you go and look in the bloodstream a couple hours [later] and those [cancer cells] that you can find are completely obliterated." Michael King is hopeful that the therapy will reach clinical trials in a few years.
King’s lab is a recipient of $10,000 in funds raised by Lynda’s Kause, because as Lynda King noted, his lab is one of the few focusing on a cure for metastatic (stage IV) cancer, rather than further understanding of how cancer functions or research on cures for earlier stage cancers.
All told, Lynda’s Kause raised about $40,000 this spring, thanks to a "Promises to Keep" pink-tie gala and an anonymous donor who matched funds raised in June. Another chunk of those funds went to the Healing Garden, a Harvard organization that provides integrative therapies to those with cancer. Executive Director Margaret Koch said the funds will be helpful covering operational costs, since nearly all their budget comes from donations.
"It’s the only cancer support facility of its kind in the state. Lynda made it very clear when she made her gift that she could not have really sustained herself without the support of the garden," Koch said
"There’s such a need for services and acknowledgement and advocacy for this stage of cancer," said Marilyn Brine Gilmour, who runs a metastatic cancer support group Lynda King attended at the Healing Garden.
While Lynda King started out as the principal for the organization, McCoole plans to take it over for her and continue the work. The sisters were planning to host a fall event and another gala in spring 2015, and launched a merchandise line (bathrobes, tote bags, sweatshirts, etc.) with a dragonfly emblem, the Lynda’s Kause symbol.
The signature dragonfly design (created by a brother-in-law), incorporates a twist on the classic pink breast cancer awareness ribbon to create the body of the insect and delicate ice blue wings with light green edges, inspired by their grandmother’s eyes. The two sisters even got matching tattoos of the delicate design, a permanent reminder of the work they started together.
King said she knew she would miss out on graduations and weddings and grandchildren, but that she had "sat at the table as long as she could." She was determined to be honest with her two children, now 14 and 16, throughout the process.
"I’ve just had a wonderful life," said King. "I married my best friend. I have great kids, great family—a great sister, which goes without saying," she said, adding with a chuckle that her one regret was never having her own bathroom.
McCoole remained by King’s side during the past several weeks, adding to the waves of visiting family and friends.
"You’re born into a celebratory environment and you’re held immediately, and when you’re passing, it’s nice to have somebody hold your hand," said McCoole. Lynda King passed away the weekend after speaking with the Journal, ending her extended battle. King, proving herself as pragmatic as she claimed, planned her memorial services ahead of time. Friends and family will gather for a celebration of her life on Saturday at the Westford Regency, where she and her husband were engaged. In lieu of flowers, donations are being accepted for Lynda’s Kause, Inc. via mail (211 Southfield Road, Concord, MA 01742) or online at (www.lyndaskause.com).