Lisa Conway frequently shopped at the Cape Cancer Thrift Shop in West Barnstable, Mass., because she liked the unique selection of items for sale. She had no idea that the store’s mission benefitted a cause very dear to her and her husband, Gary.
While browsing merchandise one day, Lisa overheard a member of the all-volunteer staff tell another customer that the shop supports Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and the Jimmy Fund.
“I had been going to the store for years, but never realized that they solely supported Dana-Farber,” she said. “It was surreal—we had just been there. I felt moved to share my story with the volunteers right then and there.”
Gary, 54, had recently begun treatment at Dana-Farber for brain cancer after months of strange symptoms. Earlier in the year, he started having difficulty recalling words and processing sentences. His nurse practitioner diagnosed him with depression—he had just lost his father-in-law and been laid off from his job—but his symptoms persisted.
“Lisa would not relent and ultimately demanded that I go get a CAT scan and MRI,” Gary recalled. “She literally saved my life.”
An MRI revealed a mass on Gary’s left frontal temporal lobe. He was immediately rushed by ambulance to Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women’s Cancer Center in clinical affiliation with South Shore Hospital, in South Weymouth, Mass. There, he was diagnosed with glioblastoma and connected to a team of surgeons—all on the same day.
Gary, whose father died from colorectal cancer in 1989 and whose 76-year-old mother is a two-time cancer survivor, was in shock.
“When I was initially diagnosed, the wind just left my sails,” said Gary. “I ate well and strived to be physically fit. I ran, biked, and played basketball twice a week for almost 30 years. In short, I was always trying to do the right thing, given my family’s cancer history.
“Ultimately, I think I just encountered some really bad luck. But, as my oncologist Dr. Lakshmi Nayak said at our initial meeting, ‘We always have hope in our control.’ I tried to keep that in mind throughout this entire ordeal.”
Gary’s surgery lasted more than seven hours. He then spent 11 days in the ICU so that doctors could monitor his brain swelling and high blood pressure. In time, Gary’s Dana-Farber team declared the surgery a success.
Back at home on Cape Cod, store manager Maryann Crossley and the volunteers at Cape Cancer Thrift Shop were inspired by Gary and Lisa’s story and moved to help. The store, a top Dana-Farber President’s Circle Corporate Leader, had already given $40,000 to the Institute in 2016. And, that fall, it contributed an additional $20,000 in Gary’s honor.
“Our shop was built and exists to help cancer patients,” said Maryann. “Hearing Lisa and Gary’s story brought new meaning to what we do—these are the families that we are helping.”
Gary is currently halfway through his continued treatment, including radiation and chemotherapy, which is overseen by Dr. Nayak. He is grateful for his care team at Dana-Farber and the time he is able to spend with Lisa and their daughter, Jill.
“This is certainly cliché, but cancer has an immediate impact on an individual’s life—I now truly understand what is most important and valuable in my life,” said Gary.
To learn more about Dana-Farber’s President’s Circle Corporate Leaders program, please contact Casey Quinn at Casey_Quinn@dfci.harvard.edu. Or, to make a gift to Dana-Farber and the Jimmy Fund, visit our website or call (800) 52-JIMMY.
Associate Director, Development Communications