Dana-Farber alumnus pays it forward to help patients, families

Cancer doesn’t discriminate—it affects people of all ages, races, socioeconomic statuses, and walks of life. And so, there are millions of stories of those affected by cancer, thousands in the halls of Dana-Farber Cancer Institute alone. This is just one of them, but its impact expands far beyond one patient.

John Ferrara became intimately familiar with Dana-Farber in 2005, when his mother was diagnosed with cancer. Although she died in 2007, the care and hope she received at Dana-Farber inspired John and his entire family, leaving a strong, lasting mark. Five years later, John entered what he calls the “inner circle” of Dana-Farber, when he stepped through the Institute’s doors as a patient for the first time.

“It’s a deep experience that never goes away,” John says of his treatment, which encompassed surgery, 12 weeks of radiation, and continued check-ups 10-plus years later. “Dana-Farber became one of my many rocks, beyond my friends and family. The care, love, and inspiration I was getting from my care team, I felt like I needed to give it back.”

That desire to give back was a seed that continued to grow for John, and it sprouted fully one day when a clinician took John for a walk around the pediatric floor. He had been having a rough day and was completely shocked by what he found in Dana-Farber’s Jimmy Fund Clinic. Where he expected cries and sobs, he heard laughter.

“If I had closed my eyes during that walk, I wouldn’t have known I was in a cancer hospital,” he recalls. “But the images you see of the kids, you just can’t forget them. It was a gift for me, because I think that was the last bad day I’ve had—no matter how bad a day is, it’s never that bad. I cannot imagine how I would feel if cancer had happened to one of my children instead of me.”

That day, John asked how he could help, and soon he had filled the depleted toy closet in the Jimmy Fund Clinic. A young dad of three teenagers, he couldn’t do much more at the time, but he made a commitment to himself that when he could do more to help these patients and their families, he would.

This year, John and his family, Kate, AJ, Claudia, and Jack, made a meaningful philanthropic commitment to support Dana-Farber’s Pediatric Resource Program. Created in 2002, the program provides resources like gift cards for gas and transportation, groceries, and local eateries, as well as larger support such as help with rent or mortgages, utility bills, and care payments—things that help reduce the burden of cancer diagnosis and treatment for the whole family, particularly those traveling for treatment. Over the past few years, the Pediatric Resource Program has experienced increased requests for support, making each philanthropic dollar given generously by families like John’s more impactful than ever to help ensure no family is left behind.

“The patients and their families are on the front lines every day at Dana-Faber,” John says. “I’m not anymore, but if we can play a small role in sending reinforcements in whatever manner needed, that’s our contribution to the fight. If we can make one thing easier, on one day, for one family, it means more than we can possibly appreciate.”

“During treatment, every day I left Dana-Farber, I felt stronger, more motivated, and more humble,” he continues. “You feel like family at Dana-Farber, and who needs that more than children? They deserve access to the best, they deserve to feel like a kid, and they deserve the strength and hope. Having seen it myself many times, I think this is Dana-Faber’s superpower.”

Thanks to support from families like John’s, more patients can receive assistance from the Pediatric Resource Program, receiving direct financial support that allows them to have a sense of security during an uncertain time and to focus on treatment, not worrying about rent and bills. At no time is this more appreciated than during the holiday season.

“I’m a proud 10-year-running alumni of Dana-Farber, and it really becomes a part of you because of all of the other patients you get to know,” John says. “So many extraordinary things happened in my life and for my family in my 10 years of survival, and it scares me to think ‘what if I wasn’t one of the fortunate ones?’ I feel blessed, and now I get to give back to others who are on their own journeys and carry the flag forward. Leaving the halls of Dana-Farber doesn’t mean you’re finished. Cancer doesn’t stop and neither do we.”

“Someday, we will be able to not only ‘defy cancer’ but to ‘defeat cancer,’ if enough people join the cause.”

Help support these 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.