Two families, and cancer research, come full circle through the PMC

Great things are accomplished by great teams—bringing together specialists and experts from different backgrounds to reach a singular goal. That’s how Dana-Farber Cancer Institute works to defy cancer, and it is the realization Eliezer Van Allen, MD, had earlier in 2022 about his leadership of the Institute’s McGraw/Patterson Division of Population Sciences, while he was reviewing the design for the division’s team jersey for the 2022 Pan-Mass Challenge (PMC).

“When I saw the PopSci Cycles logo and jersey and met with the PMC team on Zoom, it all clicked, how everyone in the division, and on the PMC team, is doing something connected to the patient experience,” said Van Allen, a physician in the Genitourinary Oncology Treatment Center and a translational scientist, who became chief of the Division of Population Sciences in 2021.

Population Sciences’ diverse group of researchers and clinicians, which consists of faculty with expertise in varied medical fields (genetics, internal medicine, pediatric, surgical, and radiation oncology), got an extra boost this year from their first PMC team, which was brought together by the division’s two foundational families: The Pattersons and the McGraws.

The Division of Population Sciences was originally founded as the Division of Cancer Control in the late 1970s, with Brad Patterson, MD, as its first chief. Patterson was a staunch supporter of smoking cessation and led the charge to making Dana-Farber a smoke-free campus. He was also an advocate against radical mastectomies for all breast cancer patients, which at the time was considered the norm; and an advocate for combining specialties, like surgery and radiology, to provide the best care for patients.

Patterson educated many colleagues and patients on cancer prevention, and inspired a number of patients to give back, leading to the creation of the Patterson Fellowship, established in the late 1980s to fund early career researchers in cancer prevention.

One such grateful patient was Anne McGraw, whose son, Robin McGraw, recently joined with Van Ellen, members of the Patterson family, and other supporters and PMC team members to celebrate the division and their PMC fundraising success.

“My mother was a very brave, courageous, and strong woman,” McGraw reflects. “When they discovered a lump in the ‘70s, they didn’t do a lumpectomy, like they’d do now. They did a full mastectomy.

“She never talked about herself,” he continues. “She talked about everyone else and how we can help people and improve their lives.”

Anne McGraw was later treated by Patterson and so impressed by the “incredible care” she received that she made a substantial donation to the Patterson Fellowship Program. She then started bringing in some additional major donors to help fund her doctor’s work and the fellowship in his name. “She wasn’t an easy woman to say no to,” McGraw laughs.

After Anne passed away, her husband, Don, made another contribution to the division, now called Population Sciences. When he later died in 2007, he left a $10 million legacy gift, which was recognized by renaming the division the McGraw/Patterson Division for Population Sciences.

Robin McGraw always had a special place in his own heart for the division and for Dana-Farber—both when attending the division’s dedication in 2007 and later when he was diagnosed with his own cancer of the head and neck.

“I was lucky enough to be treated at Dana-Farber, and I remember looking in the mirror on my way to my first visit and saying to myself, ‘Mom would expect this to bring out the best in you,’ so I tried to make sure it did,” McGraw said, noting that his cancer experience brought the McGraw/Patterson Division full circle: Head and neck cancers are often derived from HPV, the vaccination for which was not available when he was growing up, but now is a standard preventative measure.

The McGraw family continues to support and be involved with the Division of Population Sciences alongside the Patterson family, who this year started the inaugural PopSci Cycles PMC team. Lisa Patterson, daughter-in-law of the late Brad Patterson, has been riding PMC, the largest athletic fundraiser in the country and Dana-Farber’s largest single contributor, for 17 years. Eight years ago, she brought her husband, Stu, on board. Their team’s efforts support the division’s vital work and help bring the larger PopSci community together, including Zoe Epstein, a genetic testing coordinator who rode her first PMC this year.

“Growing up, I always wanted to ride the PMC, it was just a matter of when,” she said. “The Pattersons  welcomed us other riders into their family with open arms. This event is a lot, physically and financially, but the thought of riding among thousands of people and everyone cheering you on was such an inspiration. The PMC is more than a bike-a-thon that helps cure cancer; it brings everyone together to help people, and to help make the world a better place.”

A first-year team, PopSci Cycles set a goal to raise $35,000, which they blew out of the water, bringing in more than $62,000 toward the $69 million raised by the PMC, Dana-Farber’s largest single contributor each year, in 2022. The event has now raised an incredible $900 million in total for Dana-Farber, accounting for 60% of the Jimmy Fund’s annual revenue. In the years to come, PopSci Cycles hope to grow the team further, just as the McGraw/Patterson Division and both families have continued to grow.

“It’s clear to our family that the needs of the community will never be fulfilled without all of our help,” McGraw reflected. “Our family is locked in, and we’re not going anywhere. We’re going to continue to do what we can to get to where we need to go, which I seriously hope will be in my lifetime.”

Learn more about the PMC, presented by The Red Sox Foundation and M&T Bank, and how you can get involved in the 2023 ride!