Supporters Like You

Read about supporters who are committed to ending cancer.

Barbara Uscian Jackson

Barbara Uscian Jackson lost her husband, Dr. Jay Vernon Jackson, to cancer in 2009. Jay’s diagnosis of liposarcoma, a rare soft-tissue cancer, during his 50s motivated Barbara to help find a cure.

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Online searches for more information on liposarcoma led Jay and Barbara to The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. They traveled to Houston from their home in the Chicago suburbs so Jay could undergo surgery and receive treatment from doctors working in the nation’s largest clinical research program.

“The thing that impressed me the most was that the staff at MD Anderson treated my husband like a person and not a number,” Barbara says. “When my husband died, I got a condolence card from his caregivers at the hospital. Not only did they sign the card, but each person also wrote something personal about Jay. That really touched me.”

Barbara wanted to give back to the institution and at the same time increase awareness and funding for sarcoma research. She gives yearly to MD Anderson’s Department of Sarcoma Medical Oncology and has made a gift in her estate plan to establish an endowed fellowship for sarcoma research. The fellowship is a “way to keep my husband’s memory alive,” she says, as it will be named after Jay.

“It will help the small department grow and ensure they receive funds each year,” she says.

With the help of gifts like those from Barbara, scientists can take much-needed strides toward eliminating this devastating disease.

Ken and Annie Mrozinski

Ken and Annie Mrozinski are enjoying retirement in Fort Myers, Florida and aren’t taking a single day for granted.

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Ken and Annie met at West Virginia University in the 1960s and began their married life in Manhattan, Kansas. Ken enjoyed a long and distinguished career in broadcast journalism with the Department of the Army, while Annie became a school teacher and community leader.

In January 1997, Ken was diagnosed with invasive, life threatening bladder cancer by his urologist in Kansas. Surgery was recommended, but Ken’s urologist suggested he visit MD Anderson for more evaluation and treatment.

“Our initial visit to MD Anderson began to allay the tremendous stress that accompanies such an unwelcome diagnosis. From the time of admittance, through surgery and follow-up care, all was handled in a calm and professional manner. The staff was cheerful, upbeat and emotionally supportive. I always felt that I received the best care in a state-of-the-art institution,” says Ken.

Ken finished the chemo and therapeutic protocol standard for bladder cancer treatment and is pleased to report that it worked. He has been cancer-free ever since.

Now, the Mrozinskis are active in many historical, dramatic and civic organizations in their new community. They have also made a commitment to helping others survive cancer through their financial support of MD Anderson Cancer Center.

“We decided to leave a legacy gift because MD Anderson is the premier cancer hospital and research center in the country. Their mission must be supported to keep research ongoing so important new strategies can be implemented,” Ken states.

Ken and Annie hope that sharing their story and contributions will help others realize that cancer can eventually be eradicated and quality of life can be restored.

“MD Anderson is a center for hope and helping individuals reaching for a cure. It is a lifeline. We cannot break the momentum.”

Working to eradicate this disease is a way to honor your loved one. While there’s no way to bring [my husband] back, I want to do what I can with the resources I have and help make sure this does not happen to anyone else.”

Barbara Uscian Jackson

Paula Habeeb

Paula Habeeb remembers when she first heard the words, “You have cancer.” 

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What her doctor originally thought was an infection turned out to be adenocarcinoma of the cervix. Paula, a Houston native, turned to The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. That was 28 years ago. After surgery and three regimens of radiation, Paula was cancer-free.

“I never had another issue until December 2016,” she remembers. That’s when a routine colonoscopy revealed cancer. Surgeons at MD Anderson removed her tumor, and she was again declared cancer-free.

While Paula’s cancer journey has been a success, her sister, mother and brother-in-law died of lung cancer: “My cancers were found early by routine diagnostic tests,” says Paula. “But lung cancer is often caught too late.”

Because she hopes for a day when all cancers can be caught in time for a positive outcome, Paula has made a generous gift to MD Anderson — a bequest of her annuities to help fund research toward early diagnosis and treatment of lung cancer.

“I know my bequest is not as much as some can give, but my goal is that whatever I leave will help find cures and help cancer patients live better lives,” she says.

Bill & Charlotte Hartigan

For many years, the only food Bill Hartigan, now 86, could taste was salty green olives — surgery and radiation therapy for sinus cancer had destroyed his senses of taste and smell. But these days, he loves to sit down to a good ribeye steak and savor every bite. Getting a great deal of his taste back was an amazing and unexpected surprise!

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Twenty-six years ago, Bill was diagnosed with sinus cancer that required extensive surgery and radiation therapy. Five years after that, he had bladder cancer, which later recurred. Then, in 2011, ear, nose and throat specialists discovered that Bill had squamous cell sinus cancer again.

That’s when the grandfather of four turned to The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. At the recommendation of our head and neck doctors, Bill returned to Atlanta to have the tumor removed by his local ENT surgeon.

Then, in early spring 2013, he was again diagnosed with squamous cell cancer. Because of the location of the tumor, surgery was out of the question. The doctors at MD Anderson developed a treatment plan — 13 weeks of chemotherapy along with seven weeks of proton beam radiation. The tumor was completely eradicated.

Six months later, Bill was again diagnosed with another squamous cell cancer. A surgical team at MD&nbspAnderson successfully removed the cancer. This time it required extensive reconstruction of his mouth and cheek.

Bill and his wife, Charlotte, have been donating to the MD Anderson Annual Fund for years. They are so pleased with his care that they recently created a Charitable Gift Annuity to help show their gratitude.

The idea for the Charitable Gift Annuity started when Charlotte and Bill had a “strange windfall.” “We had stock from insurance that we had put in a drawer and forgotten about,” Bill says. “One day, Charlotte happened upon the stock channel on TV and saw what it was worth, so we decided to sell it and give back to MD Anderson. We wanted to do something to help totally eradicate cancer.”

Bill and Charlotte also appreciate that a Charitable Gift Annuity provides benefits, including an income stream and tax savings.

Now Bill has his quality of life back. Not only can he play golf again, but he also doesn’t have to eat green olives to taste every meal. He returns to MD Anderson every three to six months for checkups, and he knows he’s in good hands.

“The reason I’m here to talk to you today is because of the care at MD Anderson.”

—Bill Hartigan

Michelle Barton, Ph.D.

Michelle Barton, Ph.D., has seen the pain and suffering cancer can inflict on loved ones. Having lost several family members to the disease, she dedicates her life to finding cures.

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Former Dean of The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center UTHealth Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences, Barton cherishes the unique opportunities in research and education MD Anderson provides.

She says, “Working somewhere that has research intermingled with patient care is so inspiring for the basic scientist. We can actually see why we spent those endless hours in the lab.”

An early stage melanoma survivor, she turned to MD Anderson during her own journey with cancer 18 years ago.

“I have been a patient here and I’ve seen it from both sides,” says Barton. “I was very lucky.” She speaks highly of the unique care at MD Anderson, especially how quickly patients receive test results, the team approach and how nice everybody is.

Barton has always wanted to give to the graduate school to provide funds for scholarships and fellowships. Now, she’s putting her money where her heart is. She has bequeathed 50 percent of her estate to benefit education initiatives at the school. As a charitable contribution, her estate gift will be fully tax deductible.

Thanks to generous donors, the graduate school annually offers almost 100 scholarships and fellowships – based on academic and scientific accomplishments – to students from all backgrounds, including international applicants. The financial assistance not only helps students, it also enables the school to attract gifted candidates.

Pierre McCrea, Ph.D.

Pierre McCrea, Ph.D., professor of Genetics, has spent his career researching catenin proteins while educating future generations. But planning financially for his own long-term future wasn’t so easy.

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Despite his 25 years as a faculty member at MD Anderson and the graduate school, McCrea says, “I’m still learning.”

When it came time to consider estate planning, he says, “I wanted our assets after my wife, Candace, and I die to go to charities, including the graduate school, and to family members. We just weren’t sure how to make it happen.”

He turned to the free estate planning advice offered to MD Anderson faculty, then contacted the Development Office to make his future gift a reality.

McCrea feels a natural bond develops between the graduate school faculty members and their students, who give so much talent and heart to the research success of individual labs as well as to MD Anderson as a whole.

“Students often bring the best ideas and help determine the direction of research,” he says. “They bring valued perspectives that can lead to breakthroughs we may not have imagined. I want to help sustain that.”

McCrea’s gift will help support both graduate education and research to better understand normal biology, cancer and other diseases – which he considers vital to MD Anderson’s mission to end cancer.

“We all have friends who have died or suffered from cancer,” he says. “When you have a community of students and trainees working to address the challenges of cancer through rigorous, leading-edge research, it can make a real difference.”

“When you have a community of students and trainees working to address the challenges of cancer through rigorous, leading-edge research, it can make a real difference.”

—Pierre McCrea, Ph.D.

Doris Zagon

Doris Zagon was working for the Coulter Corporation, the creators of the Coulter Blood Cell Counter in Florida, when her 11-year-old son, Michael, became ill. When doctors in Miami were unable to help Michael, Doris’ boss, Wallace Coulter, suggested Michael seek treatment at The University of Texas
MD Anderson Cancer Center.

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“Because of his work in the medical arena, Mr. Coulter had heard about groundbreaking treatments at MD Anderson. So he arranged for us to fly to Houston,” Doris says.

Shortly after arriving, doctors at MD Anderson diagnosed Michael with rhabdomyosarcoma, a rare soft tissue cancer. Doris was amazed by MD Anderson’s impressive facility and world-class staff.

“I had never seen a hospital as advanced as MD Anderson,” says Doris.

Doris and Michael settled into the hospital for the many treatments to come. Unfortunately, Michael’s cancer already was very advanced and treatments were unsuccessful. Michael passed away just before his 14th birthday.

Doris and her late husband, Harold, allowed doctors to use Michael’s case to help advance MD Anderson’s cancer research. Additionally, Doris’ personal experience with cancer has led her to include MD Anderson in her will.

“I want to support MD Anderson’s research efforts, especially for rhabdomyosarcoma and other related cancers,” Doris says. Her gift is earmarked for that purpose.

“My attorney and I decided it made sense for me to leave the remainder of my estate to MD Anderson after I first provided for my family,” she says. “MD Anderson is the best cancer hospital in the country. I am glad to know my gift in my estate plans will be able to help children like Michael with similar illnesses.”

Sandra Smith 

Sandra Smith said the call came in the middle of a dinner date with her late husband, Sanford (Sandy). “He was a dentist, so when he got up to take a call I thought he was being paged,” she recalled. “But he came back to the table and said, ‘I have pancreatic cancer.'”

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Sandra was shocked. It took six months and six physicians to diagnose the pain Sandy had been enduring. But it took only a few moments for the Houston couple to decide where to turn for treatment – MD Anderson.

“We were very lucky to be so close to a world-class treatment center,” says Sandra. “I still remember how helpful everyone was.”

“Sandy braved seven or eight protocols and hoped that, even if the treatments didn’t help him, they could help other patients in the future,” Sandra notes. A positive outlook, coupled with MD Anderson’s state-of-the-art treatment, kept Sandy going, she says.

“Sandy and I celebrated milestone birthdays and anniversaries during his illness,” says Sandra. “I owe all of that to MD Anderson.”

Today, Sandra makes monthly contributions to MD Anderson to benefit pancreatic cancer research. She also has provided for a gift through her will to MD Anderson.

“MD Anderson made an extremely tough time easier,” Sandra explains. “They are first in my book and I think Sandy would have totally supported my decision.”

Pat & Jerry Abbott

When Pat and Jerry Abbott dreamed of retirement, they imagined themselves with time on their hands, touring the country in a shiny new RV outfitted with all the comforts of home. Little did they know they’d be making a road trip – make that several road trips – to MD Anderson.

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Two years ago, acting on a hunch, Jerry asked his doctor to order a colonoscopy, though a previous sigmoidoscopy, a minimally invasive examination of the large intestine, had found nothing wrong. Despite questions as to the need for further screening, the test was scheduled at a facility in Corpus Christi. The diagnosis: colon cancer. Facing surgery, Jerry knew his next decision would be one of the most important in his life. He insisted on heading straight for MD Anderson, where, he says, “cancer is what they do.”

“I wanted to go to MD Anderson because of its reputation as a world-class cancer center,” says Jerry. “The doctors there perform more surgeries to treat specific cancers in one week than others do in a year. I wanted to go where cancer is the specialty.”

Today Jerry is cancer-free. He says if he ever wins the Texas Lottery, “I’ll give it all to MD Anderson.”

In the meantime, the couple has structured their planned giving to include three charitable gift annuities to MD Anderson, plus an additional gift through their estate.

The Abbotts continue to travel, occasionally parking their RV in Houston for Jerry’s six-month checkups. They covered 11 states last summer, and the next big trip on their calendar is a month-long visit to Australia.

With renewed interests in holistic medicine, nutrition and prevention, they’re proud that one day their planned giving will support meaningful research, such as that conducted by Lorenzo Cohen, Ph. D., director of the institution’s Integrative Medicine Program, and Frank C. Marini, Ph.D., associate professor of stem cell transplantation research.

“It’s exciting to think that Pat and I can make a difference in their work,” says Jerry.

“I wanted to go to MD Anderson because of its reputation as a world-class cancer center. The doctors there perform more surgeries to treat specific cancers in one week than others do in a year. I wanted to go where cancer is the specialty.

—Jerry Abbott

Melissa Gilhart

It takes fewer than five minutes with Melissa Gilhart to feel as if you’re with a friend. Maybe it’s the twinkle in her eyes that complements her contagious smile when she speaks passionately about the things that are important to her. Or perhaps it’s the impression you get that she is wise beyond her years — wisdom gleaned in part through her world travels.

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Melissa has been to all seven continents since 1995, but “not all the countries,” she says, perhaps hinting that this is her goal. She likes to immerse herself in the communities she visits—biking to rural areas and small towns, spending time with the villagers, and absorbing the language bit by bit. Whether hanging out on a beach in Croatia or spending time with schoolchildren in Vietnam, she travels because she wants to learn more about people and their cultures.

Melissa came to work as a clinical nurse in MD Anderson’s Nursing Resource Pool for a similar reason.

“The people who come here from all over the world for cancer care are inspirational,” she says. “Many travel thousands of miles from home, they self-pay and they say that they are lucky they have such a great place to come for treatment.”

Melissa has taken her commitment to cancer patient care a major step further by including MD Anderson in her estate plan. Through her will, she has created a fund to help cancer patients who travel from other countries to MD Anderson—tailoring her gift to an area of focus that is important to her.

“MD Anderson’s values match my values,” she says. “I am a ‘third-world country’ traveler. The people in those countries are survivors. Our patients are survivors too.”

Cancer has had a significant impact on Melissa’s life, extending beyond her occupation. She lost her mother to brain cancer in 1981, and Melissa herself was recently diagnosed with breast cancer.

“My own cancer experience has made me personally realize what people go through,” she says. “So many other cultures have rituals to pay homage to the people or things important in life. In this country we really don’t. But we do have mechanisms like wills in place to help others. That’s what I want to do.”

Melissa is determined to educate others on the importance of estate planning.

“It is a way to make sure that the things that are important to you now remain significant after you are gone,” she says, adding that “too few people have wills. People need to sit down and talk with their loved ones and think about the things that might still be important to them 30 years or so from now,” Melissa says. “And then they need to act on it.”

She stresses the value of thinking about planned giving while young. “My aunt has been gone for four years, and we’re still in probate because she didn’t have a will,” she says. “The most important message I can share is ‘You’re never too young or too busy to have a will.'”

Melissa knows a thing or two about being busy. The day after she finished radiation therapy, she boarded a plane for Spain. Today, she is cancer-free and has already planned her next trips—a return visit to Italy, followed a few months later by a journey to Thailand.

While Melissa’s excursions have her flying around the world, her resolve to ensure her legacy remains grounded. “Having a will is so easy,” she says. “It’s just the right thing to do.”

Maggie Ryden Parker

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.

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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.

“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.”

—Maggie Ryden Parker

Sara Brown Musselman

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.

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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.

Musselman, a native of Louisville, Ky., was diagnosed at age 23 with no family history of cancer. For 17 years she refused to allow the disease to stop her. Instead, 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 furthered 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 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.”

Gershenson believes Musselman’s contribution will give other women the opportunity for a better outcome and quality of life during treatment.

Maria Rosa More

Maria Rosa More knows about cancer. She’s beaten it twice. She also helps care for cancer patients in a major hospital oncology unit. She understands the importance of cancer research—and the great value of charitable giving to support it.

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More was introduced to cancer 26 years ago. After years of sunbathing on the beaches of Venezuela (where she moved as a child from her native Spain), she began fretting over a growing mole. “I finally went to a plastic surgeon to have it removed,” she recalls. “He took out part of it and told me it was melanoma. I thought I was going to die.”

She quickly shared the diagnosis with a close friend, a Venezuelan physician who had completed a fellowship in Houston. “He said I needed to go to MD Anderson,” she says. “That was on a Friday, and the next Wednesday I was in Houston.”

At MD Anderson, More was put at ease by Charles McBride, M.D., a surgeon who removed the potentially deadly melanoma. Chemotherapy followed, and she became cancer-free. But she learned that McBride, who always made her “feel like everything was going to be OK,” was not well himself. He later died of pancreatic cancer.

A few years ago, More paid special tribute to McBride through a deferred charitable gift annuity—established in his memory to help advance melanoma research at MD Anderson. “I don’t have much money, but what I have I wanted to give to the people who helped me so much. Dr. McBride and everyone were so incredible and caring every time I came to MD Anderson,” says More, who continued annual follow-ups for 20 years.

During one of those visits, eight years after she battled melanoma, she was diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer and had a lumpectomy. Today she’s 62, glad to be “alive, strong and healthy.”

“I never take that for granted, and it makes me very happy that I could give something that would help other patients. I feel it’s important to give whatever you can, no matter the amount,” says More, who weekly helps feed the hungry in Miami, where she moved years ago to be closer to Houston.

“[The Charitable Gift Annuity] will be great when I retire, and it’s a great way to add to my savings now,” says More, who deferred payments until last year, ensuring a higher annuity rate and a larger gift to MD Anderson. But those who will benefit the most are future patients whose lives may be saved through research enabled by her generosity and foresight.

“[I]t makes me very happy that I could give something that would help other patients. I feel it’s important to give whatever you can, no matter the amount.”

—Maria Rosa More

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