Growing up, whenever the girls in the Schuster family, Kimmy and Kait, would get a birthday or holiday gift of cash, they got to keep a third, save a third, and the final third went to helping someone else in need. These philanthropic values, instilled by their parents Chris and Doug, have remained strong and are practiced by the whole family, with Chris recently making a $100,000 pledge to Dana-Farber Cancer Institute while Doug was in treatment for aggressive prostate cancer. Sadly, in December, Doug passed away at 61 following his 18-month battle.
“Doug was the healthiest guy. He had great physicians, took care of his health, and had his PSA checked and a digital rectal exam every year for the past 14 years,” Chris recalls. “His PSA went from a normal number to a very abnormal one in 11 months; his cancer just exploded.”
As a health care President & CEO and nurse by trade, Chris connected Doug with a physician colleague as soon as he started experiencing back pain in February 2021. Within a couple of days, the physician confirmed that Doug had cancer. “I knew if Doug had any chance of fighting this, we needed to go somewhere where the treatment was top notch and where they are working on research,” she says, reflecting on the choice to move Doug’s treatment to Dana-Farber.
“The compassion there was absolutely amazing,” she continues. “Yes, it was stressful and sometimes the results weren’t great, but the level of engagement, transparency, and planning was about as close to perfect as you can get.”
Doug’s cancer went from non-existent to widespread very quickly, but his team at Dana-Farber, which consisted of several physician-scientists who work directly on developing new treatments, were always in touch with what new options were coming along and communicative about the benefit vs. cost of each treatment decision. “I always felt like there was a plan every step of the way and that they never gave up on him,” Chris recalls. “Up until the end, Doug was treated like his life truly mattered.”
In summer 2022, when Doug’s stage IV diagnosis started to feel like beginning a marathon after already running 22 miles to get there, the team brought in palliative care specialists, who helped Doug create his family legacy. They helped Doug write holiday, graduation, Valentine’s Day, and birthday cards for his daughters for years to come, and this past Christmas Kimmy and Kaitlin both received special ornaments lovingly signed by their dad.
“When we knew where it was headed, they worked with us to make sure there was some sort of legacy, and that was so special and meaningful to us,” Chris says. “While you never want anyone to die, especially your dearest loved ones, the care we got was outstanding. I want to be a part of advancing the research, which may have helped Doug and will certainly help others in the future.”
While Chris and her daughters—Kimmy in medical school and Kaitlin a sophomore in college—are learning to live without their Doug, they are dedicated to continuing the philanthropic tradition that Doug helped to instill. The girls are both involved in their family foundation, Cold Feet Warm Hearts, which collects clothing for unhoused people, and Chris hopes their recent gift to Dana-Farber will help improve early detection, to help give more people a fighting chance, especially those fighting cancers like Doug’s.
“When I went to Dana-Farber and couldn’t find a parking spot because the lot was so full, it really hit me for the first time that everyone there had some sort of connection to cancer,” Chris recalls. “You don’t think about cancer until it hits you or your family, and now that it has, I feel an obligation to continue to donate, support, and try to defy cancer. I can’t change what’s happened, but I can support fighting this horrible disease moving forward.”
“It hurts when you lose someone,” she reflects. “If I can help there be less hurt in the world, by donating, I’m all for that.”
Join the Schuster family by supporting 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.