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‘Long journey’ with cancer takes daughter

In 2008 Roslyn Irby’s picture was among those in a calendar featuring cancer survivors put out by the Fort Wayne African American Cancer Alliance.

She had licked a slow-growing type of skin cancer that had plagued her for nine years.

Within less than a year, though, cancer returned. For four years, in a series of dramatic rallies and dashed hopes, she battled with the disease, declining to the brink of death only to bounce back.

Last May, she had improved enough to have a bone marrow transplant in a last-ditch attempt to defeat the cancer, but that fell through when she developed an infection and was declared too weak to withstand the treatment.

On some occasions since, when her health improved, it appeared a transplant might still be possible, but it never happened.

Late Thursday, one day after being placed in hospice, Irby died. She was 42.

Irby was best known for being a basketball star and homecoming queen at Bishop Luers High School, where she graduated in 1988.

She tried out for the Ball State University basketball team as a walk-on but didn’t make the team. But she still loved the game, even after she had graduated from Ball State and become a probation officer in Fort Wayne.

In 1999, she started developing spots on her skin.

It was originally diagnosed as eczema. Not until 2006, seven years after the spots first appeared, was her condition diagnosed as a slow-growing form of skin cancer that normally strikes white males.

Radiation treatments quickly cleared up the cancer, but within months it returned, and further treatments weren’t effective.

By 2010, Irby became unable to work, and by early 2012 the cancer covered almost her entire body. At one point doctors gave her days to live and told her mother to arrange her funeral, but she bounced back enough that the bone marrow transplant was actually scheduled.

Irby, though, was plagued by infections that prevented the treatment.

Her latest infection came about while she was hospitalized last month.

Irby’s mother, Ola Irby, said her daughter declared she didn’t want to die in the hospital, so she returned to the nursing home where she had been living, and the family agreed to put her into hospice care.

That was last Wednesday. Ola Irby said the last thing she said to her daughter was that she was glad she was her mother. Ola Irby said her daughter responded, “I’m glad I’m your daughter.”

By the next day, Irby was in what appeared to be a deep sleep and wasn’t responding to friends and family members who were with her. Late that night, she took her last breath. One family member said at the same time a little tear came down the side of her face.

But her daughter died peacefully, Ola Irby said.

She said she was thankful for everyone who helped during the ordeal, if only offering to pray for her daughter.

“I hope no one else has to go through what I had to go through with my child,” Ola Irby said. “It’s been a long journey.”

Funeral services will be at 11 a.m. Saturday at the Pilgrim Baptist Church. Visitation will be from 5 to 8 p.m. Friday at Carmichael Funeral Service.

Frank Gray reflects on his and others’ experiences in columns published Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. He can be reached by phone at 461-8376, by fax at 461-8893, or by email at You can also follow him on Twitter @FrankGrayJG.

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