Patient Lives on Through Gift to Help Others with Rare Ovarian Cancer
On the website created in memory of Sara Brown Musselman, her interpretations of "Wild Horses," "Beautiful," "Bridge Over Troubled Water" and other songs reflect the young woman's incredible talent and spirit. An MD Anderson patient who died in July 2009 of ovarian cancer at age 40, Musselman took the phrase "live life to the fullest" and ran with it, never looking back.
Her legacy lives on through a $1.5 million endowment she established to support low grade serous ovarian cancer research under the direction of David M. Gershenson, M.D., chair of the Department of Gynecological Oncology at MD Anderson.
With no family history of cancer, Musselman, a native of Louisville, Ky., was diagnosed at age 23. For 17 years she refused to allow the disease to stop her. Rather, Musselman believed in hope and embraced her dreams, checking them off one by one, says her mother, Ina Bond of Kentucky. She started a photography business in California, Magnolia Photography, and was a singer, a chef, an artist and a lover of nature.
Most of all, Musselman loved people, and, in turn, she was cherished by many who called her "friend." These friendships gave her strength through the challenges of cancer.
"She was so special," says Bond. "She always remembered birthdays, and she was constantly sending me handwritten letters, even in an age when technology is so prevalent."
Her friends helped in her quest to bring about a change and further the philanthropic efforts she initiated.
"She was interested in securing more research funding for low grade serous ovarian cancer, which is rare and extremely underfunded," says Bond, who combined the money her daughter left in her will with $37,000 in memorial gifts to establish the Sara Brown Musselman Fund for Serous Ovarian Cancer Research. Bond recently visited MD Anderson to make a formal presentation.
"When it came to choosing a recipient, MD Anderson was by far the leader," says Bond. "Low grade serous ovarian cancer tends to strike young women, and chemotherapy doesn't achieve the same response as with other cancers. I hope this money will find new ways to attack the disease."
Bond says she's enormously grateful to MD Anderson for the care her daughter received for many years. She credits the institution with extending Musselman's life by changing her treatment path after she was previously misdiagnosed before seeking treatment at MD Anderson.
"She would be pleased to know MD Anderson will use this money to try to improve the lives of young women with this disease," she says. "Hopefully we can find ways to add to the fund and bring better awareness around the world. Sara's death was a difficult loss, but we have wonderful memories."
Bond refers to her daughter's doctors, Gershenson and J. Taylor Wharton, M.D., who is now retired from MD Anderson, as "superheroes saving lives and giving hope."
"They always answered her questions when she was scared, and as busy as they were, they took time to talk to her and help make her feel better," says Bond.
Gershenson believes Musselman's contribution will give other women the opportunity for a better outcome and quality of life during treatment.
"Sara was a beautiful young woman who had a love for many things, and the support she has provided will allow us to expand our current research," says Gershenson. "Most of the funds will go toward confirming our lab-based studies and mapping pathways and genes in these tumors. Some of these funds will also go toward building awareness by making both the physicians and allied health professionals aware of these rare types of ovarian cancers, as well as the public, so that women who are diagnosed with these cancers can seek out a specialist who really understands the biology and treatment of these rare tumors."
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