Mary Lynn (Gearhart) Campbell, 62, passed away on January 18, 2024, peacefully at her home in Evergreen, Colorado of complications from metastatic breast cancer. Mary was born on October 10,1961 in Lamar, Colorado, the youngest daughter of Richard and Anna Gearhart. She moved to Waukon, Iowa in 1970 and graduated from Waukon High School with the class of 1980. On June 11, 1983, she married her husband of 40 years Brad Campbell, and together they had two daughters, Morgan and Mariah. Mary was immensely proud of her daughters and the work they do to positively impact humankind – Mariah as a registered nurse at Childrens Hospital Colorado and Morgan as an educator in the Manhattan/Ogden Kansas School District and grant administrator for Kansas State University. Mary worked in administrative services positions for various trade, legal and medical organizations, but her primary role in life, and the job she cherished most, was being a wife, mother and eventually a grandmother.
Mary and Brad lived in numerous places throughout the Midwest during her life but the yearning for a better quality of life and the desire to fulfill their adventurous spirits eventually led her back to the Rocky Mountains of Colorado with her family in 2005. Mary was an avid snowshoer, hiker, and mountain biker. She climbed multiple 14ers and other peaks and traversed hundreds of miles of snowshoe and single-track mountain biking trails with her husband. Her love of the mountains was only surpassed by her love for her family. She ran 5Ks and half marathons in the name of various charitable causes, most notably for breast cancer awareness. She loved her flowers, potting her plants in the spring, landscaping her yard, decorating the many homes the family lived in, her dog Zoey, her lunches and happy hour gatherings with her close friends, her annual reunions with the girls she grew up with in Waukon, and her trips to the serene beaches of Cabo San Lucas and the rugged peaks of the San Juan Mountains in Telluride. Her life, while all too short, was full and complete, and in the end, she went out at the time of her choosing and on her terms, and she was not a hostage to this terrible disease. Mary was never a complainer and never a quitter right up to the end of her life. Her determination and courage were inspiring as was her resolve, and we will never, ever forget that about her. It will serve to drive and sustain us throughout the rest of our lives.
Mary was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 2010. She requested a mammogram, and it came back clear. It was only after it became painful to hug someone that she was able to convince a doctor to re-screen with an ultrasound. In the few short months between visits, the lump had grown to a tumor the size of a baseball. It was Stage III and aggressive. Thanks to her team of oncologists, and several rounds of chemo and radiation later, she was in remission. In 2019 she celebrated 9 years cancer-free. That same year, pain in her breastbone prompted a scan that revealed her cancer had returned, this time as Stage IV metastatic breast cancer (MBC). It was in her bones and lungs, and it eventually spread to her brain early last year.
The average lifespan of someone with Stage IV MBC is 3-5 years and early detection, while important, does not change this outcome; roughly 30% of patients with an earlier stage of breast cancer will be diagnosed with MBC. When Mary's cancer spread to her brain, we knew her time was limited because treatment options are limited. Currently, most of the funding dedicated to breast cancer is focused on prevention and awareness campaigns, but the kind of research we need is the kind that focuses on the subtypes of metastatic breast cancer that kill people, especially research that includes those with brain metastases like Mary, as they are typically excluded from trials because of their poor prognosis.
Mary's story is not unique. It is estimated that 117 people die every day from MBC but it doesn’t have to be this way. We share this story in honor of our wife, mother, sister, and grandmother to remind everyone that painting media pink with ribbons and reminders to get screened, while well-intentioned, does very little to save the lives of those living with MBC, the only type of breast cancer that is deadly.
So, here is our ask from you in honor of Mary -- stay aware all the time, not just about MBC but about all forms of deadly metastatic cancer. Pay attention to who is actively working against your interests by making access to appropriate and equitable health care harder to obtain, or by prioritizing for-profit insurance companies over patient care, or by funneling funding away from cancer research. If you’re a woman, listen to your body and advocate for yourself. Get checked, right now. Breast cancer does not discriminate as there was no prior history of it in Mary’s family. Read about the organizations asking for your donations; make sure the money you give is benefitting research and not the pocketbooks of the CEOs who run them. If donating isn’t your thing or not in your budget, research the information you choose to share, the organizations for which you advocate, and the people you give your vote.
Prioritize research and maybe someday people like our Mary will live long enough to see a cure or at least be afforded the opportunity for a decent quality of life.
The family requests those who wish to express sympathy to consider donating to METAvivor in honor of Mary through the following link: donate.metavivor.org/MaryCampbell They are a charitable organization with a 4-star rating who dedicates 100% of every dollar it receives to research on metastatic breast cancer.
We express our heartfelt thanks to Mary’s medical team at UCHealth Anschutz in Aurora, Colorado and Mount Evans Hospice in Evergreen, Colorado for their care, compassion, and support. Without them and the tireless work they do Mary’s life would not have been extended to the extent that it was, and her final days would not have been the blessing to us all that they were.
Mary is survived by her husband Brad of Evergreen, Colorado, daughter Morgan (John) Jobe of Manhattan, Kansas, daughter Mariah (Patrick) Lattanzio of Denver, Colorado, her brother Steve (Moose) and (Shelly) Gearhart of Cedar Falls, Iowa, her sisters Debra (Steve) Roe of Bellingham, Washington and Kim (Joe) Griffin of Rochester, Minnesota, and two precious grandchildren Julian and Rowan Jobe of Manhattan, Kansas. She was preceded in death by her parents Richard (deceased in 2020) and Anna (deceased in 2022) Gearhart of Waukon and her father and mother-in-law James (deceased in 2011) and Maxine (deceased in 2022) Campbell of Waukon.
In accordance with Mary’s wishes, there will be a private family memorial service followed by a celebration of life to be held in Evergreen, Colorado in the spring.
While Mary is now gone from our sights, she will forever be in our hearts. Godspeed Mary.