Longtime smoker survives cancer, spreads smoking cessation message

July 3, 2012 – Ricki Kibby started smoking as a teenager. Even though cancer crossed her mind every time she lit up, her attempts to quit never worked.

In 2004, everything changed. Kibby went to the doctor with pain in her thigh. The doctor ordered an X-ray and blood work. The X-ray results turned the doctor’s attention from her leg pain to a spot on her lung. Kibby had just lit a cigarette when her doctor called with concern: He suspected the spot might be cancer. That cigarette was Kibby’s last. This time, she quit for good.

To confirm she had lung cancer, Kibby had several rounds of blood work and a biopsy. Her sister came
from out of town to be with her during the testing.

With her husband and sister at her side, Kibby remembers her doctor calling on a Saturday to confirm that she had stage III lung cancer and needed to begin treatment right away. Her doctor stayed positive and offered this encouragement: “You are 59. You quit smoking. You are strong enough. You can do this.”

Kibby’s medical team at the Siteman Cancer Center came up with a treatment plan that included chemotherapy, radiation therapy and surgery. The treatment made her sick, and she was in and out of the hospital often. On one occasion, she was admitted to the hospital just days before her big 60th birthday party. The medical team made it a priority to get her well in time for the party, and she was able to celebrate with her friends and family.

Through it all, Kibby received a lot of support and encouragement, including from her co-workers at the Olin Business School at Washington University. With many prayers, Kibby’s surgery – the final step of treatment – successfully removed all of the cancer. The day after the surgery, she says she felt so good that it was like she never had cancer at all.

Kibby says she was not supposed to survive, but she is confident that she did for a greater purpose. One of the things she is passionate about is getting others to quit smoking. She says the stress of life may fool people into thinking smoking is OK, but she gives this advice: “If you smoke, you will always live with the possibility that lung cancer might happen to you.”

Today, Kibby makes her health a priority. She exercises and eats fresh, healthy foods. Collecting seashells has long been a hobby, and she displays them in every room in her house as a reminder to smile and enjoy life.