Two Wars Against Cancer

Share with others:


Print Email Read Later

MY identical twin sister, Karen, and I have two older brothers. We were raised in Blue Bell, Pa., where my father was a family physician and my mother was a nurse. We spent summers on Long Beach Island, N.J., where both of us were waitresses at a busy seafood restaurant.

My sister and I have always been best friends. We even went to the same college, the University of Vermont. I was scientifically inclined and majored in biology. We graduated in 1980, and my sister later became a lawyer.

I was accepted to medical school, but my father was opposed to that. He thought I was too impatient to cope with medicine's bureaucracy. Instead, I took a job in sales at Merck, the drug maker.

To my chagrin, the company sent me to its site in West Point, Pa., very close to home. After two years, I moved over to work in the company's marketing and communications area, but I began to realize that I needed some formal business education.

In 1983, I entered Harvard Business School, specializing in marketing. I met my husband, Paul Giusti, there. After we earned our M.B.A.'s in 1985, he started a real estate development business in the Midwest, and I joined Gillette in Boston in its personal care division.

We married in 1990 and moved to Chicago, and I worked briefly at Brach's, the candy manufacturer, in Oakbrook Terrace, Ill. I then joined G. D. Searle in Skokie, helping to develop new products like Ambien. Later, I was promoted to manage the company's worldwide arthritis drugs division.

In late 1995, I was feeling tired and went in for a physical. Blood tests found that I had multiple myeloma, an incurable blood cancer. I was shocked because I was only 37. My grandfather had had the disease, but I wasn't in the usual demographic or age group. The scariest part was that there were no drugs in the pipeline to combat the cancer.

Our first child, Nicole, was about 2 when I received the diagnosis. I was determined that I was going to have another child, which I did. Our son, David, was born in 1997.

At that point, I did not expect to live beyond a few years, so we moved to New Canaan, Conn., to be closer to our families. Paul sold his company, but the new owners who were based in McLean, Va., asked him to remain as chief operating officer, which he did, working from a New Canaan office.

After our move, my sister and I organized a fund-raiser, garnering $400,000. We used that to start the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation, which initially made grants to speed development of cancer-fighting drugs. (Later, it also worked with academic and clinical centers and pharmaceutical companies on initiatives like a tissue bank.) Six years later, in 2004, I started the Multiple Myeloma Research Consortium to foster collaboration among cancer centers, to start a patient tissue bank for research and to encourage broader participation in clinical trials.

I was working full time and raising my family, but in 2005 my health began to deteriorate. In early 2006, I received a stem cell transplant. Karen donated the cells, and the operation was done at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston. When I came home, I weighed 90 pounds and was bald and fragile.

It took several months to recover, but I returned to work later that year and kept building our network of 16 clinics and hospitals that participate in the clinical trials, tissue bank and genome research. We've raised $200 million since the foundation opened and are now focused on helping patients use individualized medicine to fight cancer.

I still get a huge knot in my stomach every two months, when I check in at Dana-Farber for my test results. But I believe we have made some real progress because I continue to work impatiently to cure this disease and other cancers as well.

As told to Elizabeth Olson.

employment

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

You have 2 remaining free articles this month

Try unlimited digital access

If you are an existing subscriber,
link your account for free access. Start here

You’ve reached the limit of free articles this month.

To continue unlimited reading

If you are an existing subscriber,
link your account for free access. Start here