A friend’s encounter with lymphoma motivated a donor to give to cancer research
When Anita McCullough’s dear friend Jane Ehm was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, McCullough desperately wanted to do something to help her and other patients with lymphoma.
“Janie was very seriously ill, and I felt that the only hope was in research,” says McCullough, who lives in Palm Desert, California. “She is like a daughter and a best friend to me. Her mother and I were college roommates and best friends, and I have known Janie since she was a little girl.”
McCullough decided to get in touch with Ehm’s physician, Linda Burns, M.D., who is fellowship director for the Medical School’s Division of Hematology, Oncology, and Transplantation. Soon McCullough was inspired to donate more than $500,000 in support of Burns’s research at the University, which focuses on developing experimental therapies for malignant hematologic disorders, including stem cell transplantation and immunotherapy.
The generous size of McCullough’s gift has enabled Burns and her fellow researchers to conduct clinical trials to test some new drugs, called monochromal antibodies, that specifically target lymphoma. These antibodies were developed at the University of Minnesota Cancer Center.
The gift provided critical support at a time when it was most needed. “We would not have been able to do these drug studies without Mrs. McCullough’s support,” explains Burns, “because they are very expensive and very time-consuming.”
In October 2000 Burns performed Ehm’s stem cell transplant, for which Ehm’s sister was the donor. Ehm is grateful for the treatment she received at the University — and even more grateful that she has remained in remission since the transplant.
“If I hadn’t had the stem cell transplant I don’t think I’d be alive today,” says Ehm. “I wouldn’t have seen my daughter get married or have met my new baby granddaughter.”
Ehm’s recovery has also made it possible for her to visit McCullough in California, continuing a tradition that began when she was 17 and spent the summer living in San Francisco with the woman she calls “Neets.”
“My mom isn’t living anymore, and Neets is like a second mother to me,” says Ehm, 57, now a retired kindergarten teacher living in La Crescent, Minnesota. “When she called to tell me she was making a donation in my name, I was both surprised and very touched.”
“Mrs. McCullough’s gift came as quite a surprise, and the amount was certainly very generous,” says Burns. “This gift has made a dramatic difference to our research mission. She recognized the need for research, which is the only way we can bring new therapies to patients, to hopefully cure them.”