Cancer Survivor Crafts Message of Hope Through Endowment
As Maggie Ryden Parker of Houston graciously pours a cup of tea and sets a plate of cookies on the table, she begins her story from the top. Her strength is inspirational: A wife, mother, cancer survivor and philanthropist, at 82, Parker is a beacon of light, despite the many times cancer has touched her life.
Her 18-year-old son succumbed to cancer, as well as both her parents, and her first husband (her mother to bladder cancer, her father to lung cancer, and her late husband to colon cancer).
"I draw strength from God and from those around me, my family and my friends," she says.
Parker recalls the days leading up to her son's diagnosis of osteosarcoma in 1975.
"Alan was a nationally ranked swimmer and was about to finish high school when he started to complain of a 'gimpy left knee'," says Parker.
An orthopedist prescribed surgery, but three months later the knee had failed to heal. "By then, Alan was on crutches," says Parker. "We finally went for a second opinion, and that doctor's words are permanently seared into my brain: 'I'm afraid, ma'am, your son has a fast-growing tumor on his leg and should see a specialist right away.' "
At 8 a.m. the following Monday, in January of 1975, Alan and his parents were at MD Anderson for an examination. Numerous tests confirmed the diagnosis.
"There followed aggressive chemotherapy, accompanied by loving and empathetic care," says Parker. "The cancer prevailed, however, and in October of that year Alan died."
In 2001, Parker's relationship with MD Anderson became even more personal with her own diagnosis. "I self-admitted to the system and told them to fix me up, and they did," she says. "I felt I was adequately administered to, cared for, treated and followed up on. If I were a teacher giving MD Anderson a grade, I would give it an A-plus in all categories."
It was during this period, Parker recalls, that she began to ponder in what specific ways her life had made, or might make, a positive impact on the lives of others and, specifically, what she might do to make such an impact. It was also at about this same time that she began to pay more attention to the many advances in cancer research at MD Anderson.
This growing awareness led her to rewrite her will and set up her IRA to be divided three ways among her alma mater, her church and MD Anderson. In memory of her son, she established the Alan Ryden Endowment for Pediatric Osteosarcoma Research at MD Anderson, with a $35,000 initial contribution, in 2009.
"By these acts, I hope in some small way to help those who might be diagnosed with cancer now, and in the long run to give hope and optimism to cancer patients in the future," says Parker.