Roslyn Irby is best known to some people for being the 1987 homecoming queen at Bishop Luers High School, or for being a basketball star at Luers, where she was named to the all-conference team in 1988.
After graduating from Luers, Irby went to Ball State University, where she tried out for the womens basketball team as a walk-on. She didnt make the team, but basketball remained one of her great loves, even after she graduated from Ball State with a degree in criminal justice and became a probation officer.
In 1999, though, Irby started getting spots on her skin, especially on her legs. She went to see a dermatologist, who diagnosed it as eczema. The problem persisted, and it wasnt until 2006, seven years after the spots first appeared, that Irby, who is black, visited a new doctor who was also black, hoping that he might recognize a condition that others might not.
That doctor quickly sent her to Indiana University Medical Center in Indianapolis, where Irby was diagnosed as having T cell lymphoma mycosis fungoidis, a rare and slow-growing form of skin cancer that is usually found in white males.
At first, Irby was treated with radiation, and the cancer quickly cleared up.
Within three months, though, the cancer returned. Doctors decided that additional radiation treatments could damage her organs, so Irby was treated with chemotherapy and other treatments.
None of the treatments worked. The cancer grew.
Today, 13 years after the cancer first appeared and six years after it was first diagnosed, the cancer has spread.
Irby has been unable to work for the past year. Shes lost her insurance and is now on disability and Medicaid.
The cancer, says Irbys mother, Ola, now covers her body, from her head to the soles of her feet. Her body is swollen, and moving is painful.
At one point, the soles of her feet actually came off, her mother said.
As recently as January, Irby nearly died. Her organs were shutting down and she was given four to five days to live. Her mother said doctors told her to arrange her daughters funeral.
But Irby bounced back, and doctors are now planning one last effort to lick the cancer. A donor has been found, and Irby is scheduled to have a bone marrow transplant in early May. She is scheduled to go to IU Medical Center on April 30 where she will be prepared for the transplant, which is to take place May 7.
Irbys mother will be with her. Shell sleep in her hospital room for six weeks after the treatment, and for a few weeks after Irby is released from the hospital, she and her mother will have to find a place to stay in Indianapolis, to be close to the hospital.
Thats an expensive proposition for Irbys mother, moving to Indianapolis for three months, an expense her mother really cant afford.
So Ephram Smiley has stepped in.
Years ago, when Smileys wife developed Guillain-Barre syndrome, a disease that causes paralysis and is potentially fatal, the Irbys took in their young children and cared for them while Smileys wife recovered.
Its just time to pay it back, Smiley says.
So on Friday, starting at 5 p.m. at the Boys & Girls Clubs of Fort Wayne at 3609 Fairfield Ave., Smiley is organizing a celebration of Irbys life. A basketball team of Maplewood Elementary School dads will play a team of adults from the Boys & Girls Clubs, and a team of Maplewood students will play a team of students from the Boys & Girls Clubs.
Its just a couple of basketball games – no food or auctions or raffles. It will just be people playing basketball games as a tribute to Irby, who loved the game so much.
People who attend can watch the games and make a free-will offering to help Ola Irby pay for her three-month stay in Indianapolis. You dont even have to watch the games, Smiley said. You can just drop by and make an offering and leave, he said.