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Remembering a love story

Kent Rukke is quick to share that he and his beloved wife Debbie were married 47 years, 6 months and 11 days. Kent may have lost the love of his life to brain cancer, but his memories of their life together are his constant companion, and also the impetus for his philanthropic support of The Ben & Catherine Ivy Center for Advanced Brain Tumor Treatment at the Swedish Neuroscience Institute (SNI).

Kent and Debbie’s love story began while he was working at a school in North Dakota and she was a student there pursuing her dental hygiene degree. They were married in July 1969, two months after graduation.

Initially they made their home in the Midwest. But in the mid-80s they moved to Washington state with their two children, Brian and Kirsten—first living in Moses Lake and then in Ephrata. Kent still lives in their family home.

Although Debbie was a dental hygienist and later became a certified public accountant, her most treasured “employment” was during her retirement years, watching her three granddaughters while Kirsten worked at an elementary school in Moses Lake.

In October 2015, Kent and Debbie’s idyllic life was turned upside down. Debbie began having balance problems. When she lost control of the left side of her body, Kent rushed her to their local emergency room where a CAT scan showed that Debbie had a tumor on her brain. After an MRI confirmed the diagnosis, Debbie was scheduled for surgery in Wenatchee.

Her surgeons removed as much of the tumor as they could and pathology identified it as glioblastoma multiforme, or GBM. Kent and Debbie were told that with this aggressive type of cancer, her prognosis was anywhere from 15 months to five years. In December, she began 30 days of radiation and chemotherapy, and in February she had a second surgery.

Debbie and Kent had confidence in her care team, but they wanted to be absolutely certain they were doing everything they could to fight the cancer. While researching GBM online for her mom and dad, Kirsten found The Ivy Center. She scheduled an appointment for a second opinion with neurosurgeon Charles Cobbs, M.D., the Gregory Foltz, M.D., Endowed Director of The Ivy Center, and neurologist Jerome Graber, M.D.

“We were relieved to hear these experts in GBM say that they would have done the same thing if they had treated Debbie in the beginning,” says Kent. “At the same time, we were disappointed that there was nothing more that could be done.”

They went home to continue Debbie’s chemotherapy, eventually arranging for home health and then hospice care. On Jan. 7, 2017, Kent and Debbie renewed their vows, and on Jan. 14, Debbie passed away.

Even though Drs. Cobbs and Graber didn’t treat Debbie, Kent was moved by the compassion they experienced during their appointment and the expertise that was available at The Ivy Center.

“Everyone there was fabulous,” says Kent. “We could easily see how committed they were. It was only natural for me to want to honor Debbie by supporting The Ivy Center—to help them come up with a vaccine or a cure to stop GBM dead in its tracks.”

To further honor Debbie, Kent and his family walked in her memory at Swedish’s Seattle Brain Cancer Walk to benefit The Ivy Center’s brain cancer research and clinical trials. Kent teasingly tells Dr. Cobbs that through his donations, he’s trying to help put a stop to brain cancer and ultimately put Dr. Cobbs out of business so he can do more golfing.

Together, supporters like Kent, his family—and you—give our patients access to extraordinary health care and hope for a healthy tomorrow. To learn more about how your gift is making a difference at the Swedish Neuroscience Institute, contact Mallory Higgins, assistant philanthropy officer, at 206-386-6108 or Mallory.Higgins@swedish.org.