“You’ve been paid for by people who never even saw your face. Your mother’s mother, your father’s father. And so it behooves you to prepare yourself so you can pay for someone else yet to come. Whose name you’ll never know. You just keep the good thing going.”
In the summer of 2010, a young woman woke up from exploratory surgery at UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital to the most devastating news possible: at the impossibly young age of 25, with no family history and no genetic markers, she had advanced ovarian cancer.
It was a defining moment in Darcel Fahy’s short life, and it would mark the beginning of her legacy. After that day, she set two goals for herself: that she would live the rest of her life to the fullest extent possible, and she would fight to help other women facing the same diagnosis.
She accomplished both.
Darcel left a lasting impression on all those who knew her, particularly Dr. Robert Edwards, who chairs Magee’s Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Sciences and is an investigator with Magee-Womens Research Institute specializing in gynecologic cancer.
The two formed a close bond, and Darcel doggedly participated in Dr. Edwards’ research, including two clinical trials. She donated heavily to a tissue and blood bank that he oversees. And she drove from her home near Windber, Pennsylvania — about 90 minutes from Pittsburgh — in pursuit of aggressive treatment that would extend her life and inform research for others.
Throughout her fight, she maintained her ornery spirit and sense of humor. When her uterus was removed, she gave Dr. Edwards a uterus-shaped pin and doll for keepsakes. She named her colostomy bag Stanley. She joked: “Oh. I guess you want another blood sample.”
She worked tirelessly to raise awareness, raise money, and speak out about ovarian cancer.
“She wanted ways to help people, and if not find a cure, find a way to detect it,” says her husband, Mike Fahy.
The five-year survival rate of patients diagnosed with Stage 3c ovarian cancer, like Darcel, is just 39 percent, according to the American Cancer Society. Darcel lived for 7½ years, and Mike Fahy credits her care under Dr. Edwards with extending her life. She died on Oct. 20, 2017; despite her weakness, even in the last few weeks of her life, she was still asking to participate in research.
In her honor, after her death, Mike — who has brewed beer both professionally and as a hobby — created a coffee milk stout called With You Always through Whitehorse Brewing in Berlin, Pennsylvania, where he once worked. In September 2019, he sold it as a fundraiser for ovarian cancer research at Magee. He also found love again in Kaitlin Martin, who helped him organize an event around the beer’s release with the blessing of Darcel’s family.
In May 2020, Kaitlin and Mike married. This year, they are again offering the stout as a fundraiser for Magee, supplemented by a virtual campaign. (More about the beer’s availability and the campaign can be found here.)
“I didn’t want to lose our traction, because we did so well,” Mike says. “It was really amazing how it brought people together. There was a lot of love in the air; it was a lot of people celebrating life.”
Unbeknownst to the Fahys, Darcel’s other wish was coming true in 2017, the last year of her life. On April 17, 2017, a woman she never met — Dr. Carolyn Kubik, a Magee-trained infertility specialist — learned that, like Darcel, she had advanced ovarian cancer. Her first call was to Dr. Edwards, whom she knew professionally.
Like Darcel, Dr. Kubik is a woman who faces challenges head on. When cancer came for her, she was determined to rule it.
Dr. Edwards surgically removed the cancer that had spread throughout her abdomen, then began 18 weeks of intravenous and intraperitoneal chemotherapy at UPMC-Passavant, the same community hospital where Darcel eventually went. By Halloween, her ports were removed, and her tumor marker has been normal ever since.
The treatment via combination intravenous/intraperitoneal chemo was part of a protocol that Dr. Edwards has been researching and promoting both locally and nationally for about 20 years and continues to study. Though not yet universally accepted, three clinical trials have demonstrated its effectiveness compared to standard therapy, Dr. Edwards notes.
Among the women who contributed to those earlier clinical trials: Darcel Fahy.
Today, Dr. Kubik is cancer free and back to work helping couples eager to start a family. She expresses gratitude to the women like Darcel whose contributions helped to save her life: “That’s who I’m most grateful to, and that’s who I’m living for,” she says.
For Mike Fahy, knowing that Darcel’s fight bought more time for other women represents a victory for his late first wife: “I think for her, it would have made it all worthwhile. That was everything she ever wanted.”
Be the First to Know
Get the latest research, news, events and more delivered to your inbox.