Annual Report 2013: Ending Cancer Together
For Gary and Catherine Bylund, supporting Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center is all about personal connections: not just the family links through which they were introduced to the organization, but the relationships they have since developed, especially with scientists. Through these relationships, the Bylunds have become personally invested in the innovative research they fuel with their contributions.
Catherine's first, very personal encounter with Fred Hutch came long before she met Gary, when researchers were still pioneering bone marrow transplantation as a cure for blood cancers. She worked at a nearby funeral home where she met families of patients who had died despite receiving the then-experimental treatment. But soon Catherine noticed a shift. Fewer families were coming to the funeral home.
"I saw the outcomes [of transplantation] change and change very dramatically in a very short amount of time. I knew something exciting was going on in Seattle," Catherine said.
Gary, meanwhile, had become a Fred Hutch supporter through his first wife, Jackie, and her family's annual Fourth of July celebration known as the Sign of the Orz. What started in 1969 as a simple family gathering — with an auction added to keep everyone entertained between lunch and dinner — quickly grew into an impressive fundraiser for local organizations. Fred Hutch was among the first beneficiaries the family chose to support.
When Jackie died suddenly in 2005, Gary and the family made sure the tradition continued. Today, Gary and Catherine still host the event, bringing together hundreds of family members and friends and raising tens of thousands of dollars for Fred Hutch research each year.
Those original ties have since multiplied thanks to Gary and Catherine's thoughtful engagement with Fred Hutch. As charter members of the President's Circle, for example, they have found many opportunities to interact with others who share their passion for lifesaving research.
"It's truly a community," Catherine said. "There's a symbiotic relationship between the scientists and the donors. We've connected with a number of scientists and are following their stories and successes. That, for me, has forged a lifelong relationship with the Hutch."
One such scientist is Dr. Sunil Hingorani. The story of Sunil's quest to cure pancreatic cancer, the particularly deadly disease that killed his father, struck a chord with Catherine, whose uncle died of the same malignancy. After hearing Sunil present his research, Catherine chose to spend her 50th birthday touring his lab, meeting his team and learning more about their breakthroughs.
Gary, in turn, has been drawn to Dr. Mark Roth's work on suspended animation, which could buy time for heart attack and trauma victims as well as other critically ill patients. Having lost his first wife to a cause that may one day be survivable with the help of Mark's approach, Gary knows well the potential impact of the work. "It will be one of those game-changing discoveries," he said.
More recently, Gary met another visionary researcher, and what began as an impromptu discussion sparked a whole new experiment: Fred Hutch's first crowdfunding campaign. When Gary first talked with Dr. Bonnie McGregor, he was immediately struck by her passion for her latest project, developing and testing a web-based program to support ovarian cancer survivors. But he also recognized Bonnie's apprehension about obtaining funding for work that was too novel to qualify for a federal grant. They hit upon the idea of crowdfunding — a mechanism that enables networks of individuals to pool donations, usually via the Internet, to support a defined project.
"Sounds like something we should do at the Hutch," Gary told Bonnie. "It could be a new vehicle for funding start-up thoughts and projects."
So, with Gary's encouragement and a generous pledge to help catalyze the effort, they set out to test the idea. Bonnie launched her campaign on Indiegogo.com in May 2013, and in 40 days her crowd, including the Bylunds, raised more than $12,000, surpassing her original goal of $10,000.
Creating opportunities for more people to connect with Fred Hutch — whether through holiday celebrations with family and friends or the power of online networks — seems to be a natural byproduct of the thrill Gary and Catherine get from being so closely intertwined with the research.
"We're in this fight together," Catherine said. "I really like that. I can wrap my arms around it and get behind it."
“There's a symbiotic relationship between the scientists and the donors. We've connected with a number of scientists and are following their stories and successes. That, for me, has forged a lifelong relationship with the Hutch.”
– Catherine Bylund