Family honoring wife and mother by raising funds for rare cancer
Wendy Ramsey, an active 47-year-old, started experiencing a severe decline in her energy levels in 2003. She decided to seek medical attention when her husband, Duane, and sons, Spencer and Stewart, agreed that it was unlike her to be unable to get through the workday without extreme fatigue and exhaustion. After many appointments and tests with her medical teams in Washington state, Wendy received the news that she had chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL)—a type of cancer in which abnormal lymphocytes (a type of white blood cell) accumulate throughout the body and impair the normal functioning of the immune system.
Wendy was quick to take action and become a student of her disease—reading, researching, and asking questions on a daily basis to understand the treatment options available for CLL so she could advocate for herself and fellow patients. Chemotherapy was the normal regimen for CLL at that time, but Wendy chose to enroll in several clinical trials of new targeted therapies with the goal of helping these research teams continue to uncover breakthroughs and better treatment options for patients with CLL. “Wendy was more than willing to do that to help herself and other people. She was selfless, understanding the experimental nature and importance of these trials,” recalls Duane. Wendy dedicated her time outside of treatments to supporting other CLL patients by joining multiple forums and speaking at conferences to share her experiences and help advocate for additional funding and research opportunities.
The Ramsey Family found themselves facing a new obstacle in November 2019, when Wendy began to experience severe muscle and joint pain. “It was so bad that she couldn’t even sleep in a bed,” Duane shares. Initial tests led to no clear diagnosis or answer about Wendy’s intense pain. The family pushed for more tests in December 2020, which led to a diagnosis of Richter’s transformation, the transformation of CLL into a significantly more aggressive lymphoma with a poor prognosis.
Wendy educated herself on this new disease and quickly realized that there were very few treatment options available for her. “None of us knew anything about Richter’s,” recalls Spencer. “At first it seemed like just another hurdle to get over. It wasn’t until we could see that the treatments were limited and weren’t working that it became much more real for our family.” Wendy enrolled in an FDA-approved program for CAR T-cell therapy, which would attempt to use her own immune system cells to attack her cancer. Unfortunately, the side effects from these treatments became too toxic for Wendy, leading to her hospitalization and death in spring 2021.
Duane, Spencer, and Stewart Ramsey were devastated to lose an integral piece of the fabric of their family. They found that the best way to grieve the loss and honor Wendy’s legacy was to continue her mission to spread awareness and advocate for cancer research. Though she was not treated in Boston, the Ramsey Family decided to make a $110,000 gift to establish the Wendy Ramsey Richter’s Research Fund at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. This fund supports the research of Matthew Davids, MD, MMSc, director of clinical research in the Division of Lymphoma at Dana-Farber. “It hit home for me when I read of his successes and learned he was involved in developing the drug venetoclax which was part of Wendy’s treatment plan,” Duane explains. “We learned very quickly that Dr. Davids sees, from his patients, the desperate need to uncover new treatment options and he uses that to drive his relentless pursuit for progress in the Davids lab. It made our decision easy.” From Dr. Davids’ perspective, the timing of this gift could not have been better. “We just recently published the results of our first clinical trial dedicated to patients with Richter’s, and we were in the planning stages for what aspects of Richter’s we wanted to study next,” Dr. Davids shares. “This generous gift from the Ramseys will open new doors of investigation both in the lab and the clinic and will make a major impact to help us accelerate progress in developing better therapies in this aggressive disease.”
The Ramseys are hopeful that their gift will help Davids uncover new treatment options that can ultimately benefit patients and their families around the world. “Any type of progress will be a win,” Spencer says. “We felt that in real ways with Mom—each treatment or trial gave us more time with her, and we hope we can provide the same opportunity to patients and families in a similar situation,” adds Stewart.
The Ramsey Family has created the Wendy Ramsey Richter’s Research Fund Giving Page on the Jimmy Fund website to allow friends, family, and others affected by Richter’s transformation to support Dr. Davids’ innovative research. They are also focused on increasing awareness for Richter’s, after seeing firsthand how little some of the patients with whom Wendy interacted knew about the disease. “There are thousands of CLL patients in the world,” Duane says. “If they’ve done any study on their disease, they know Richter’s could become a part of their life. They don’t always dig in and research like Wendy did. We are lucky to have avenues to help and plan to do everything we can to contribute financially, while educating others so we can work together to find new treatment options and hopefully a cure for CLL and Richter’s someday.”
Join families like the Ramseys and make a donation to The Dana-Farber Campaign, our ambitious, multi-year fundraising effort to prevent, treat, and defy cancer. The Dana-Farber Campaign will accelerate the Institute’s strategic priorities by supporting revolutionary science, extraordinary care, and exceptional expertise. As a community, we have the power to create a more hopeful, cancer-free future—in Boston and around the world. Together, we can defy cancer at every turn. Learn more about The Dana-Farber Campaign at DefyCancer.org.