Daughter honors mother’s spirit with planned gift to support cancer research

In 1995, Melissa Fajardo’s mother, Victoria, was diagnosed with cancer in one breast at just 30 years old. After receiving successful treatment, which resulted in remission, she was again diagnosed with breast cancer only five years later—this time in the other breast. She underwent a double mastectomy, a treatment which she hoped would mean that she had finally seen the last of cancer. So Victoria’s family was shocked when, in 2016, what she thought was a broken hip turned out to be cancer that had metastasized.

“She occasionally complained of pain at the time, but she didn’t really talk about it much because she didn’t want to burden us,” Melissa explains. “Then one day she called me and said: ‘I don’t have the best news – you know what it is.’ That’s how I learned she had cancer again.”

Upon receiving the news, Melissa moved from South Carolina back to her hometown of Providence, Rhode Island, to care for Victoria. She regularly accompanied her mother on long drives from Providence to Boston for her appointments. “We considered moving her to another hospital,” Melissa remembers, “but she insisted on going to Dana-Farber. She valued the access to such great doctors. And during the entirety of her final two years, she had an incredible support system, including a social worker who not only helped me navigate her care, but who also supported my family as we fought alongside her.”

Sadly, Victoria passed away in 2018 after a difficult battle. To this day, Melissa and her family find new ways to honor Victoria’s memory and legacy. Recently, Melissa decided to include Dana-Farber in her will, in hopes that other families in need will experience the attention and care that her family did. “I don’t consider myself a philanthropist,” Melissa notes. “But I believe so deeply in what Dana-Farber has to offer patients and their families, and it was important for me to include Dana-Farber in my estate plan. It might not be a lot, but I know that every dollar will go to good use.”

Melissa hopes that, with more gifts like hers, more families—particularly those in marginalized groups, including people of color—will receive the same care that hers did. “My family is Colombian, and in my culture we rarely advocate for ourselves or ask for help. But I know that in addition to the cost of treatment, many are burdened with additional related expenses, such as fuel costs for travel, hotel stays, and food while away from home. Dana-Farber helps families with all of that. But too many people are not even aware that these resources are available, and instead forego treatment in fear of being unable to afford it. There is a lot we can do, but we cannot do it without the generosity of others. I hope that others will consider joining me in supporting Dana-Farber.”

Melissa feels strongly that her planned gift is a great way to honor her mother’s legacy and spirit. “Throughout the entire process, she was so positive and optimistic. At the end, I had to tell her that it was OK to let go. I knew she was holding on for my brother and me. I told her: ‘You are one hell of a woman to get through this.’ Now, I hope my contributions will help provide support to other patients and their families, and ease some of their heavy burdens.”

Learn more about how you too can create a legacy by establishing a planned gift.

Support Dana-Farber’s efforts by joining 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 and how you can get involved at DefyCancer.org.