Walking with Jane to find a cure for a rare cancer

Jane in her classroom at Westport High School in Westport, Massachusetts.

When the love of his life, Jane Dybowski, was experiencing chronic stomach issues in 2010, she and her husband of 21 years, Harry Proudfoot, were determined to get answers.

“It was the scariest moment of my life when our doctor diagnosed Jane with a rare form of cancer called neuroendocrine cancer,” explained Harry.

Jane and Harry were encouraged to visit Dana-Farber Cancer Institute where they met with Dr. Jennifer Chan, Clinical Director, Program in Carcinoid and Neuroendocrine Tumors.

“When Jane first met Dr. Chan it seemed like they were sisters separated at birth. It made us feel a sense of comfort that we had not felt in a long time,” said Harry. “On our second visit with Dr. Chan, we learned that Jane had severe heart damage. This and other issues caused by neuroendocrine cancer presented Jane with challenges when it came to treatment options.”

At the time, little was known about neuroendocrine cancer. Jane, who was a science teacher at Westport High School in Westport, MA, agreed to participate in a clinical study with the hope that her experience would help Dana-Farber learn more about neuroendocrine cancer. With her husband by her side, she vowed to beat the cancer.

In the fall of 2010 after three months of treatment, Jane’s health suddenly took a turn for the worse, which resulted in her untimely passing. She was remembered as a brilliant scientist and dedicated teacher. More than 1,000 friends, family, colleagues, and former students attended her wake and funeral.

“Jane’s passion for learning inspired all of us, especially Dr. Chan. Throughout Jane’s treatment Dr. Chan would visit with Jane, not just as a doctor from Dana-Farber, but as a friend,” said Harry.

Dr. Chan told Harry that thanks to Jane, she and her colleagues had doubled their knowledge about neuroendocrine cancer. Knowing that there is more to be done to find a cure, Harry established Walking with Jane to encourage others to join the fight against this rare cancer. Through this foundation, Harry has made a life commitment to raise awareness, and funds to support neuroendocrine research at Dana-Farber.

Harry and friends at the Boston Marathon Jimmy Fund Walk presented by Hyundai.
Harry and friends at the Boston Marathon Jimmy Fund Walk presented by Hyundai.

As a part of this commitment, Harry attends speaking events and conferences dedicated to neuroendocrine cancer, and is a member of the Dana-Farber Presidential Visiting Committee for the Gastrointestinal Cancer Center. He actively fundraises to help support neuroendocrine research by hosting mini golf fundraisers and participating in the Boston Marathon® Jimmy Fund Walk presented by Hyundai.

“Jane and I were supposed to retire in the spring of 2011. We had a lot of things planned, but one of them was to participate in a cancer walk. When she passed, I registered for the Boston Marathon® Jimmy Fund Walk to help fundraise for Dana-Farber,” said Harry. “During my first walk along the Boston Marathon® course, I felt tired, but I kept walking. I used Jane as motivation, because she didn’t get to rest; she was fighting every minute of every day.”

In 2014, Harry and a Dana-Farber patient worked with Massachusetts state officials to officially proclaim November as Neuroendocrine Cancer Awareness Month, and November 10 as NET Cancer Awareness Day. Through these efforts he hopes that one day we will find a cure for cancer, specifically the cancer that took Jane.

“My dream is to one day be able to visit my wife’s grave and tell her ‘we did it’ and I truly believe we are going to get there,” says Harry.

Erica Equi
Social Media Coordinator, Online Marketing