Celebrating 75 years of the Jimmy Fund

Seventy-five years ago, on May 22, 1948, the original “Jimmy”—a young boy with lymphoma, whose name was changed to protect his privacy—shared his story through a radio broadcast from his hospital bed at what is now Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, inspiring more than $200,000 in donations from across the country. That generous community of donors, who rallied together to raise money for a TV so Jimmy could watch his favorite baseball team, the Boston Braves, from his hospital bed, is what became known, fondly, as the Jimmy Fund.

While it has grown considerably over the last 75 years, the Jimmy Fund has always remained a community: A grassroots movement of people of all ages and backgrounds organizing bike rides, runs, walks, golf tournaments, canister collections, video game livestreams, bake sales, lemonade stands, and more to bring people together and raise money for cancer research and care.

In the decades since Jimmy’s original broadcast, the generosity of millions all over the world has helped the Jimmy Fund directly support Dana-Farber’s mission of turning groundbreaking research into lifesaving treatments to defy cancer, for patients of all ages. The proof is in the progress.

Since 1947, when Sidney Farber, MD, completed the first successful treatment of blood cancer using chemotherapy, Dana-Farber has remained on the cutting edge of bench-to-bedside research and high-quality, holistic patient care.

  • In the 1950s, the opening of the Jimmy Fund Building represented a new era in cancer care, housing research labs and clinics in the same facility and establishing the bench-to-bedside approach to treatment. It was also home to nutritionists, social workers, and other specialists who fulfilled Sidney Farber’s vision of what would come to be known as “total patient care.”
  • In the 1970s, Dana-Farber took a major step on its journey to becoming a leading cancer center for both children and adults by expanding clinical care from just pediatric oncology to both pediatric and adult oncology. At the same time, the development of more effective chemotherapy by Dana-Farber scientists raised cure rates for some cancers—adult non-Hodgkin lymphoma and osteogenic sarcoma, a form of bone cancer—from less than 15% to more than 60%.
  • In the 1980s, thanks to breakthroughs in cancer drugs, better control of chemotherapy side effects, and the development of procedures to improve tolerance to chemotherapy and radiation—all of which was made possible by the help of Jimmy Fund donors—two out of every three children who entered Dana-Farber’s pediatric Jimmy Fund Clinic became cancer-free.
  • The 1990s and 2000s saw major developments in cancer genetics, as Dana-Farber scientists and researchers proved that a susceptibility to developing cancer can be passed down from one generation to the next. Genes were discovered that increase risk for common types of cancer, such as the MSH2 gene for colon cancer and the BRCA1 gene for breast cancer. 

Today, breakthroughs continue because of support from the Jimmy Fund community, leading to new and innovative cancer treatments. Just in the last 10 years, Dana-Farber researchers have unveiled a new, more potent technique for targeted therapy that destroys, rather than merely disables, cancer-related proteins in tumor cells; Provenge was approved by the FDA after a Dana-Farber-led clinical trial, becoming the first therapeutic cancer vaccine for prostate cancer; Novobiocin, an antibiotic originally developed in the 1950s, was found to effectively kill cancer cells with abnormal BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes; and, after a clinical trial led by Dana-Farber in 2021, the FDA granted its first approval for CAR T-cell therapy for adults with multiple myeloma.

Beyond these major advances in cancer treatment, the Jimmy Fund continues to play a prominent role in early detection and prevention efforts; space expansion and extension of Dana-Farber’s reach across New England; and comprehensive and compassionate care for patients and their families.

Participation in signature events and community-organized fundraisers that benefit Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and the Jimmy Fund remains the backbone of these efforts.

The Pan-Mass Challenge (PMC), co-presented by the Red Sox Foundation and M&T Bank, is the nation’s single most successful athletic fundraiser. Since its inception, the PMC’s sole beneficiary has been Dana-Farber and the Jimmy Fund, today accounting for 60% of the Jimmy Fund’s annual revenue. The PMC features an annual bike-a-thon in August, with routes from 25 to 211 miles, as well as PMC Kids Rides in the community throughout the year, PMC Winter Cycle at Fenway Park, and PMC Unpaved, a one-day gravel ride through the Berkshires, in the fall. Dana-Farber’s single largest contributor, this dedicated community has gotten us closer by the mile to defying cancer, raising an incredible lifetime total of $900 million since 1980.

The Boston Marathon® Jimmy Fund Walk presented by Hyundai raises the most money of any single-day walk in the nation. It also happens to be the only event authorized to use the historic Boston Marathon® course other than the marathon itself, offering walkers the chance to trek the full 26.2 miles from Hopkinton, start in Wellesley and complete a half-marathon, walk a 10K from Newton, or gather at Dana-Farber’s Longwood campus for a 5K through the city to the finish line. Thousands of Jimmy Fund Walk participants, sponsors, and volunteers each year have helped Dana-Farber continue to take steps toward the ultimate finish line—a world without cancer—by raising more than $167 million in the event’s 35-year history.

The WEEI/NESN Jimmy Fund Radio-Telethon presented by Arbella Insurance is just one example of the enduring partnership between the Jimmy Fund and the Boston Red Sox, the most unique, long-standing, and visible relationship between a charity and sports team in professional sports history. This 36-hour radio broadcast from Fenway Park takes place over two Red Sox games and amplifies the voices of Dana-Farber patients, doctors, nurses, supporters, and celebrity guests to inspire people to donate in support of pediatric and adult cancer care and research. In the true spirit of Jimmy’s original 1948 broadcast, generous support from the Jimmy Fund community has brought the WEEI/NESN Jimmy Fund Radio-Telethon’s cumulative total to $65 million over the last 20 years.

These are just some of more than 450 incredible events that bring together the Jimmy Fund community throughout the year, and that move the needle of cancer research and treatment forward every day.

Seventy-five years ago, Jimmy was a boy, saved from cancer by Dr. Sidney Farber. Today, Jimmy is all of us—every patient, doctor, nurse, and researcher at Dana-Farber who defies cancer, and every cyclist, walker, golfer, runner, and supporter in the Jimmy Fund community who makes their progress possible.

Together, we have continued Dr. Farber’s promise to never accept the incurability of cancer. Together, we celebrate 75 years of progress, impact, and dedication to creating a more hopeful, cancer-free future. Together, we’re all Jimmy, and we will continue to defy cancer.

Join the Jimmy Fund community today and help us celebrate 75 years by participating in an existing event, volunteering, or starting your own Jimmy FundRaiser in your community. In doing so, you’ll become part of 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.