A woman with brain cancer is working to put an end to the devastating disease that has affected her life for the past 11 years.
Mary Senff, formerly Mary Billings, a North Platte native now living in Omaha, is the organizer of "Tie One On for Brain Cancer," an effort to raise money and support for medical research.
According to the American Brain Tumor Association, brain tumors are the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in men ages 20-39 and in children. They are the fifth leading cause of cancer-related deaths in women 20-39.
The association estimates 69,720 new cases of primary tumors, those that begin in the brain and tend to stay in the brain, will be diagnosed in 2013. Of those, it's predicted that about 3,050 children younger than 15 will be affected.
The disease has recently hit close to home for North Platte residents. Shawn Davis, 48, of North Platte, died Oct. 29 following a 16-year battle with brain cancer. He had worked at the Cabela's Telemarketing Center since 1996.
David Hurst, 43, formerly an emergency room physician for Great Plains Regional Medical Center, fought brain cancer two years before dying from it Oct. 26 in Texas.
B.J. Margritz, of North Platte, is currently in treatment for the disease.
Senff is also familiar with the struggle. Her brain cancer was discovered in December 2002, after she sought medical attention for sinus headaches at age 22.
"A spot showed up on the CAT scan, which was later diagnosed as a tumor," Senff said. "It was slow-growing, so I followed a 'watch and wait' strategy until 2008, when it was determined I should start treatment."
Because of its size and location near her left ear, the tumor was deemed inoperable. Senff began radiation in December 2008, followed by six months of chemotherapy.
"There are treatments, but there is no cure," Senff said. "I'm in remission, but get MRIs every six months just to monitor things."
Ever since the treatments, Senff has had trouble staying warm. The problem gave her the idea to have volunteers knit or crochet items such as mittens, scarves, hats and blankets that could be sold to raise money for the National Brain Tumor Society.
Senff launched "Tie One On" in the fall of 2011. Its popularity has skyrocketed thanks, in part, to social networking sites. People can buy items through Facebook or at sales throughout Nebraska and in Denver, Colo.
"We receive stuff from all over America," Senff said. "People who can't knit or crochet often donate yarn to the project. At the end of the season, things that haven't sold are given to local cancer treatment centers. I figured if I got cold, other people with cancer probably did, too — especially those without hair."
More information about her project and how to help can be found here.