When Kevin Leahy watched his wife Anita’s courageous battle against colon-rectal cancer, he knew she wanted something positive to come out of her struggle. He and Anita’s parents found the perfect way to honor her fighting spirit through a research fund at The Foundation for Barnes-Jewish Hospital.
Even as a child, Anita Kerns Leahy showed she had what it takes to succeed. Her mother, Miriam Kerns, described her as a “feisty little thing,” who was smart, strong and determined. Anita threw herself into everything she did whether it was driving a tractor, dancing in musicals, cross-stitching or solving math problems.
Although she could probably have been just about anything she wanted, it was math that became Anita’s calling. She earned an accounting degree from the University of Missouri-Columbia, and in 1996 she landed a job as an accountant at Barnes-Jewish Hospital. She then worked her way up to the position of senior financial analyst.
Twenty years later, she still loved her job so much that she kept going to work even when a steady loss of appetite and weight signaled trouble. In fact, it was a colleague with a nursing background who finally convinced Anita to see a doctor.
“The doctor called at 10 p.m. on a Sunday night. He said her red blood count was so dangerously low that she needed to go to the emergency room immediately,” says her husband, Kevin Leahy. “It was gut-wrenching. She had just turned 45. We had no idea this was striking her.”
It was the spring of 2016 and test results showed she had late stage colon-rectal cancer that had metastasized to her liver and lungs. Anita lost her battle on May 18, 2018, shortly after her 22nd anniversary with the hospital.
“She fought hard and kept going to the office except for treatment days and while recovering from surgery,” Kevin says. “She was so proud to be part of that team.
They really embraced her and she loved working there. She’d go in even if it was just part of the day because she wanted to be with them.”
As Kevin and Anita’s parents watched her undergo grueling chemotherapy treatments and two surgeries, one thing became very clear: Anita wanted something good to come out of her suffering.
“When Anita was going through treatments, she wanted to use her experiences to help others,” Kevin says. Miriam agreed. “She was a caring person and always wanted to help people out, even then.”
With that in mind, Kevin and Anita’s parents decided that making a generous gift toward colon-rectal cancer research would be a meaningful way to recognize Anita’s wishes. As a result, they created the Anita Kerns Leahy Endowed Fund for Colon-Rectal Cancer Research at The Foundation for Barnes-Jewish Hospital. The fund supports both patient care and innovative research being conducted by Anita’s oncologist, Katrina Pedersen, MD.
Dr. Pedersen’s work is promising, Kevin says, and the family hopes the fund will grow.
“We wanted to honor Anita’s fight and her courage,” Kevin says. “And we wanted to say thank you to Dr. Pedersen for all she did to help Anita.”