Although her students are gone for the summer, Bethany High School teacher Denise Kimbrough is already planning for next fall.
Once she completes her lesson plans and schedules tournaments for the school’s cheer squad, she’ll turn her attention to another passion: next year’s cancer drive. Since 2003, under Kimbrough’s leadership, Bethany Public Schools have raised almost $40,000 for cancer research at the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation.
“I’m really driven by the kids,” Kimbrough said. “When most kids would have been thinking about summer vacation, my students were asking me when we’ll hold next year’s fundraiser and what we’ll do.”
The funds, including a $6,000 donation in 2010, come from a variety of activities: hamburger cookouts during football season, volleyball and dodgeball tournaments, faculty-student basketball games, and the sale of snacks and T-shirts. All of the funds go to support cancer research at OMRF.
For Kimbrough, the effort is personal. She lost both parents to cancer.
“I do get emotional talking about it,” she said. “But I let the students know that by putting money into research, they’re potentially saving themselves from the heartbreak I’ve endured.”
Kimbrough said her mother was a health nut, which made her bout with multiple myeloma all the more shocking.
“I remember she got sick during spring break, while my nephew was at a baseball tournament,” she said. “She died one year and one day after that. It was a wake-up call to my entire family.”
With 1 in 3 women and 1 in 2 men developing cancer over their lifetimes, it’s a disease that stands to impact all of her students in one way or another, Kimbrough said.
“Hopefully, one day, they won’t have to go through something like that,” she said. “In the meantime, I try to get them to focus on the positive. Look how far breast cancer treatment has come in the nine years since it took my mother. Breakthroughs are being made every day.”
At OMRF, Robert Floyd, Ph.D., and Rheal Towner, Ph.D., are developing an experimental treatment for a deadly brain cancer. Courtney Gray-McGuire, Ph.D., and Hong Chen, Ph.D., are investigating the genetic roots of colon and prostate cancers. Other projects are exploring new ways to treat breast cancer.
“I know the little part we do helps,” said Kimbrough, “So we do what we can.”