Family propels lung cancer research, honors legacy of late husband and father

Michael and Laurie Coughlin first learned that Michael had lung cancer at a mid-morning appointment with his newly appointed oncologist, Geoffrey Oxnard, MD. They had little time to process before Oxnard began an immediate diagnostic plan, ushering them around Dana-Farber Cancer Institute for blood tests, an MRI, and a consultation with a radiation oncologist. By late afternoon, the Dana-Farber team had a comprehensive treatment plan already in place. Michael would start in two weeks.

The diagnosis was shocking, but the immediacy of a plan was a comfort.

“Dana-Farber is where you want to be as a patient or family member hearing the terrifying words, ‘You have cancer,’” Laurie says. “We felt taken care of in a way that was shocking but nurturing. Having a plan in place from the start makes all the difference when dealing with a cancer diagnosis.”

For Michael, trust in his doctor and the rest of his care team at Dana-Farber carried him through his arduous two and a half years of treatment, which involved chemotherapy, radiation, multiple surgeries, and various clinical trials. All throughout, Michael’s mantra remained, “I will be alright as long as they have a plan.”

Michael’s grace throughout treatment was a testament to his character, with concern for others even in his most difficult times. When Michael passed on November 25, 2016, after a courageous journey, his oncology nurse recounted to Laurie how, despite the trials of treatment, Michael always managed to ask her how she was that day.

After Michael’s passing, the Coughlin family’s grief was profound. Yet, it was matched by a powerful desire to make a difference. They reached out to his care team to establish the Michael Coughlin Lung Cancer Research Fund—now managed by Pasi Jänne, MD, PhD, the director of the Belfer Center for Applied Cancer Science and the David M. Livingston, MD, Chair at Dana-Farber—driven by the knowledge that every dollar would propel lifesaving research happening every day at Dana-Farber.

The Coughlins discovered quickly that fundraising for lung cancer was a formidable challenge, but this only fueled their determination. Inspired by their own experience at Dana-Farber, they were committed to providing funds that would benefit other families facing the disease, emphasizing the importance of early detection and screenings.

Michael and Laurie’s daughter, Allison, kicked off the family’s fundraising efforts by running the TCS New York City Marathon in November 2014, raising $14,000 for Dana-Farber. Her siblings, Kristin and Dan, joined the cause soon after Michael’s passing, rallying friends, family, and colleagues to don “Coughlin Crew” shirts and participate in the Boston Marathon® Jimmy Fund Walk presented by Hyundai for the first time in 2018. Over the team’s three years of walking, the event has become more than a fundraiser; it is a celebration of love, hope, and community, bringing together those touched by cancer to support one another.

The Coughlin family’s dedication was unwavering, and in 2023, they fulfilled their initial pledge of $100,000 to Michael’s named fund—and they show no signs of slowing down.

“We have every intention of continuing this important philanthropic endeavor,” Laurie says, “because one day, a research breakthrough that we help fund could be the one that leads to the cure.”

The story of Michael and his family serves as a reminder that even in the face of loss, we have the power to create a lasting impact, and the fund in his name stands as a symbol of the commitment to finding a cure. It’s a story that inspires us all to believe in the power of a plan, the strength of the human spirit, and the profound difference we can make when we come together against cancer.

Join families like the Coughlins at the 2024 Boston® Marathon Jimmy Fund Walk presented by Hyundai. Funds raised fuel 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.