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'If you're given a gift': Woman thanks her doctor by supporting his research

Jeanne McGahee hadn’t been back home to see her family in Georgia for nine years, so when her doctor told her to take a break from chemotherapy, she headed south.

Jeanne McGahee

On a side trip to South Carolina, her companions were eating fresh oysters from a big tin bucket—but not McGahee, who’s allergic to shellfish. Instead of feeling deprived, she enjoyed her fish and took home a few oyster shells, which she found interesting.

Emphasizing the positive is a credo with McGahee. Diagnosed in May 2005 with advanced ovarian cancer, she had surgery that month and then again two years later, when the cancer returned. McGahee recalls asking her doctor, gynecologic oncologist Peter Argenta, M.D., how she could still be going strong at 82 years old after two major operations and three years of chemotherapy.

“Dr. Argenta said, ‘Part of it is your outlook on life.’ I just haven’t gotten depressed,” McGahee says. “One of my best friends describes me as stubborn. I like the word determined.”

While she relies on the support of many friends, McGahee also likes her own company. “There’s a difference between being lonely and being alone,” she says. “I don’t just sit in a chair and moan. If I get lonely, I’ll call someone. You have to make a life for yourself.”

And that she’s done. She began her career as a program director for the YWCA in the South and later moved to Des Moines, Iowa. After earning a master’s degree in social work in 1966, she moved to Minneapolis and spent 22 years as a social worker in the Minneapolis public schools system. Through the years, she has traveled around the world.

One of McGahee’s traveling companions was her lifelong friend Louesa Danks. The two met in Des Moines and remained close even after they moved to different states. When Louesa passed away in January 2007, she left her estate to McGahee.

She chose to make two donations to fund Argenta’s ovarian cancer research—an estate gift and a gift that could be used right away. Her great hope is that the fund will help many others receive the gift of more time.

“I feel I’ve been blessed,” McGahee says. “I’ve done so much. I weigh the positive and the negative, and I always come out on the positive.”

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