Philanthropists Next Door: Marlene Krakow

Face of Giving: Marlene Krakow

Roots: Cancer survivor

Cause: Helping the sick and hospitalized and cancer patients see the light

Marlene Krakow has had cancer as many times as Lance Armstrong has won the Tour de France’s coveted yellow jersey.


The 71-year-old Overland Park resident was first diagnosed in 1981 with Stage IV synovial sarcoma; in 1995 she underwent a lumpectomy, radiation and nine months of chemotherapy for breast cancer; in 2000 a scan revealed spots on Krakow’s left lung. She had the lower lobe of that lung removed and in 2003 spots showed up on her right lung; Krakow’s surgeon cherry-picked those tumors. In 2005, 2008 and 2010 tumors ping-ponged between Krakow’s lungs and each time she’s had them removed by Bradley Koffman, MD, a radiation oncologist and medical director of the CyberKnife Center at Menorah Medical Center.

This litany of cancer diagnoses, surgeries and treatments would leave most people emotionally breathless and empty of spirit, seeing an end to happy tomorrows and joy. However, Krakow has weathered her challenging medical resume and instead of fear, negativity and hopelessness the diminutive senior has lived her life with a positive attitude she’s seemed to borrow from the most beautiful spring day imaginable.

“It’s critical to have a positive attitude,” says Krakow, rather matter-of-factly, considering the daunting and dark hours she’s experienced being poked with needles, radiated and under a surgeon’s scalpel. 

Krakow has sprinkled her sunny disposition and simple message of hope to tiny cancer patients at KU Medical Center and the Ronald McDonald House after a doctor saved her leg from amputation during the sarcoma scare, a cancer that usually affects kids in their teens. She became a home volunteer for the renowned Bloch Cancer Center, supporting sarcoma and breast cancer patients–hugging, listening and wiping away tears. Krakow is involved with Menorah Medical Center’s oncology volunteer program and works with cancer patients in Dr. Koffman’s office and in the office of Howard Rosenthal, MD, medical director of the Sarcoma Institute at Menorah, sharing her experience, strength and iron-clad hope with others in the cancer seat.

There’s more of Krakow to go around, too. She serves on the chesed committee at Kehilath Israel Synagogue, visiting homebound congregants and those in the hospital.

What’s in all of this giving for Krakow? 

“I’m enriched tremendously,” she says. “It’s all part of giving back what I’ve been given. It truly is paying it forward, with no expectations in return.”

If yellow jerseys were given out freely to the winners in this world, Krakow would have several hanging in her closet.

Seven, to be exact.

words: Kimberly Winter Stern

photos: Blixt Photography