Lung cancer diagnosis inspires former physician to give back

Shock, anxiety, and fear are just three of the many emotions Jim Fanale felt when he was first diagnosed with stage IV non-small cell lung cancer. After having a persistent cough for a few months, Jim had a chest CT scan but didn’t expect the results that would follow. Despite being a physician for over 40 years, and his wife, Deb, an oncology nurse, nothing could have prepared them for a cancer diagnosis. Jim thought to himself: “I’m the one who’s supposed to see patients, and now the shoe is on the other foot. How can this happen?”

Pictured: Jim (right), with his wife, Deb

With the help of his care team at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Jim has been part of a clinical trial to help manage his cancer, with Deb as his caretaker by his side through it all. While going in for treatment can be tiresome, the personal interactions Jim has along the way are a silver lining that make the long days feel worth it to him.

“The relationships you make at Dana-Farber are unlike anything else,” Jim says. “There’s a collective feeling of togetherness. Whether you’re in an elevator with another patient or on an infusion floor receiving treatment, there’s a sense of community and closeness with everyone here that makes it so special.”

Jim (third from left) with his family at the 2023 Jimmy Fund Walk

When coming in for treatment one day, Deb saw a poster for the Boston Marathon® Jimmy Fund Walk presented by Hyundai and immediately knew she and Jim should participate to raise funds for Team Lung Cancer. To them, it was a great opportunity to give back to the place that is saving Jim’s life. For the last two years, Jim, Deb, and members of their family have participated in the Jimmy Fund Walk and will continue to be active walkers in years to come.

Inspired to help others, Jim wrote a book, “ONWARD: A Teaching, And A Love Story – For Physicians, And Everyone,” about his and Deb’s experiences at Dana-Farber. While both the provider and patient experience are crucial, Jim notes that the caregiver experience is equally important and challenging. Jim hopes to bring awareness about the experience Deb and other caregivers have, and how they can be supported when a loved one is diagnosed with cancer. He also plans to donate proceeds to a caregivers’ fund at Dana-Farber.

Jim with his wife, Deb at the Jimmy Fund Walk

“Deb has been by my side through everything,” Jim explains. “Her support throughout my treatment has been no easy feat for her, either. The caregiver experience can be emotionally exhausting and it’s important to me that caregivers receive support and recognition just as much as patients.”

Support folks like Jim and Deb this Lung Cancer Awareness Month and National Family Caregivers Month Honoring Caregivers Month 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