Sladjana (Sofi) Milenkovic Crosley, 1950 - 2009
Sladjana (Sofi) Crosley was a healthy, athletic, trim woman when, at the age of 46, she was found to have stage 1a granulosa cell tumour of the ovary (GCT). This followed a couple months of feeling bloated, and having periodic abdominal pain or discomfort. Her response to these symptoms was to assume that she wasn't exercising enough, and then double the number of sit-ups she was doing and extend the distance she was routinely walking. Finally, after a particularly bad attack of abdominal pain, she went to the hospital where she was x-rayed, told she "had a gas buildup" and sent home with an allotment of simethicone. Only after passing out in her doctor's waiting room, 24 hours later, did they admit her to hospital and do an MRI where they discovered a "cyst" on an ovary.
Following surgery Sladjana was told that the "cyst" was benign, and not to worry because even though, technically,
GCT is a cancer it "almost never recurs", and no followup treatment or evaluations were scheduled.
Three years later, the GCT returned and the decade that followed became one continual
cycle of treatments, evaluations and research as she pursued the discovery of any treatment that
would allow her to manage the disease. Sladjana
passed away on Anzac Day, 25 April, which is somehow appropriate because she loved poppies, which are a
symbol of rememberance for those Kiwis and Australians who died during the battle
of Gallipoli, during the First World War.
It was the culmination of her 13-year battle against GCT with a "can-do" spirit that was
finally put to the test once too often.
Many of you only knew her as Sofi, the founder of this Foundation, and may not have known her real name, Sladjana. She came up with the personna of Sofi years ago in Dunedin, NZ, where she would play golf, quite often being paired up with others. What she found was that if she introduced herself as Sladjana, no one talked to her for the rest of the round. If she introduced herself as Sofi, however, then the round was full of comments like "good shot, Sofi", or "nice putt, Sofi". Clearly some people were intimidated by the pronounciation of the name, Sladjana. Soon, anytime a casual, temporary, introduction was being made she was "Sofi". (Note: This didn't sit to well with her youngest daughter, Sofi!)
Sladjana was born in Pirot, Yugoslavia in 1950, the daughter of Milena and Vitomir. She grew up to be valedictorian of her high school, but not before also winning a national competition to be named "Best 14-Year Old Gymnast" of Serbia. Her parents were not big on sports, however, and used their parental persuasion to convince her to get a college degree. With the help of a full academic scholarship Sladjana completed her Bachelor of Science degree in Chemical Engineering at Belgrade University.
After graduation, Sladjana moved to Buffalo, NY (USA) where she landed a job with Union Carbide as a chemist where, as she said, she didn't have to know much English because chemistry is universal. She learned English with the help of a fellow chemist, who conversed with her in Russian, a language they had in common. Eventually, Sladjana migrated to Oak Ridge, TN (USA), where she was employed by Lockheed Martin at the US Department of Energy Oak Ridge Nuclear Laboratory. She became a Project Manager, leading nationwide research into treatment technologies for hazardous waste.
In 1997, she migrated to Dunedin, NZ, where (along with her husband) they established a company offering environmental consulting services and software.
In 2004, less than 6 months after radical de-bulking surgery, Sladjana suffered a 3rd recurrence of GCT. After only being offered only the same old toxic suite of drugs, some of which had already proven ineffective, she undertook to research what other options might be possible. What she found, however, was a lack of organised information about GCT on the internet, which led to a lot of frustrated searches, unsolicited emails to researchers asking for their thoughts, and a growing sense that no one was paying any attention to this disease. From that experience, she decided to establish the Granulosa Cell Tumour Foundation New Zealand, whose mission would be to push for more research directed at GCT, leading to development of more effective, targeted therapies. When starting up the Foundation, Sladjana was concerned about being able to maintain a sense of privacy about her own health issues. Using the name Sofi turned out to be good cover for her in that sense. It is difficult to be out front, leading a campaign, and maintain privacy at the same time. Because of her own desire to remain private, she also respected everyone else's privacy and would never, knowingly, share personal information about any of the Foundation supporters.
Sladjana's pursuit, both personal and on behalf of the Foundation, took her around the world looking for researchers and doctors that had an interest, or a discovery, that might reveal the secret "key" to defeating GCT. That led, more than once, to her trying drugs almost straight out of the lab, or entering Phase 1 clinical trials for which no track record could exist. Several times she thought she had found the "Holy Grail", including drugs such as Phenoxodiol, Velcade, Sorafenib, and Sunitinib, only to have the GCT re-exert its dominance and continue its progression. Her ultimate belief was that the answer lies in the lab, and her mission for the Foundation was to work to uncover it.
But, in the end, she was not able to combat side-effects with a system that had been weakened by the extended series of treatments she was subjected to. So we, at the Foundation, are left with a huge void from many respects. To find another Sladjana (or Sofi) is impossible, but we will continue working to complete her mission.
Sladjana is survived by her husband and two daughters.
Memorial donations for Sladjana may be made by clicking on the "Donate Today" link, with 100% of proceeds going into the Sladjana M. Crosley Fund for GCT Research.