Don and Dottie Thomas

Like you, friends of Fred Hutch feel deeply that cancer must be stopped. They are devoted to inspiring our world-renowned scientists and powering the groundbreaking research that will create new insights and treatments, translate discoveries into cures and transform the lives of millions. Here are stories of people like you who are committed to fighting cancer.

A founding scientist at Fred Hutch, Nobel Prize—winner Dr. Thomas developed bone marrow transplantation as a cure for leukemia, making his name as the “father” of this lifesaving advance. His wife Dottie worked tirelessly by his side.

In 1990, Dr. Thomas won a Nobel Prize for pioneering bone marrow transplantation as a curative therapy for leukemia and other blood cancers. He, Dottie and other team members persevered against the odds to save patients’ lives. This research continues to save lives today through the Hutch’s preeminence in mini-transplants that use minimal radiation and in cord blood transplants, which offer better matches for those unable to find other donors. In addition, it laid down the roots of modern immunotherapy, which is leading a new revolution in cancer treatment and cures.

Don and Dottie left a legacy not only of lifesaving scientific discoveries but also of their spirit of generosity. They established a charitable trust that paid them income for their joint lifetime, with the remainder value benefitting Fred Hutch at their passing. Other gifts established “Dottie’s Bridge,” an endowment designed to help promising researchers bridge the gap between the end of their fellowships and their first federal grant awards. With these gifts, the Thomases continue to propel innovative research, and improve patient care, far into the future, even after they themselves are gone.

Interested in learning more about how Dr. Thomas changed cancer treatment and helped create the vibrant Seattle biotech industry of today? Check out this story from KOUW-FM.

Jim and Diane Watson built their life around family. Diane considers raising their three children — two girls and one boy — the highlight of her life. For Jim, a University of Washington graduate who forged a 30-year career in California at Ford Aerospace Corporation (later Lockheed Martin), “family was the reason for everything.”

After shepherding their children into adulthood, the Watsons eagerly anticipated caring for an equally close-knit third generation. At first it seemed to Diane and Jim that grandchildren would never come, until Karen, their second-born, gave birth to their much-loved and long-awaited first grandchild, Nigel. Nigel was born almost 18 years ago. Joy was fleeting.

“He was diagnosed with leukemia when he was 4 months old. He died when he was 8 months old. It was a very, very difficult time,” recalls Jim, whose voice still quivers when he remembers Nigel.

The Watsons carry Nigel in their hearts always, and they want to spare others the same pain they feel. Diane and Jim named Fred Hutch as the beneficiary of their charitable trust so that they could support pediatric leukemia research and be involved in starting new cures and better treatment options.

“Cancer is so devastating. It’s our great hope, really, that the Hutch will be able to mitigate so much of that, and find cures,” says Diane.

Now the proud grandparents of four more grandchildren born after Nigel died, Jim and Diane take great satisfaction from knowing their gift will help other children and grandchildren lead longer, healthier lives.

“I can’t think of a better way to leave a legacy than that,” says Jim.

Lynn Lippert and her wife, Sal Jepson, have a passion for life and bonded over their shared love of traveling and the outdoors. After Lynn received her second breast cancer diagnosis, she and Sal decided to meet the challenge by joining Fred Hutch’s annual Climb to Fight Cancer. Lynn surprised herself with her initial success, raising $17,000 for lifesaving research at the Hutch. “Unfortunately, I have a compelling story to support,” she quips.

Following Lynn’s third cancer diagnosis and the loss of her brother to prostate cancer in 2011, Lynn and Sal decided to establish an endowment at Fred Hutch. Reflecting on their motivation, Sal says, “Endowment goes on forever. It is really important to us that our gifts and fundraising are not one-time things, that it’s more than us.”

Lynn and Sal started their endowment with an initial gift to Fred Hutch and have increased its size through additional fundraising using a Fred Hutch personal fundraising web page, gifts from their IRAs and a bequest in their estate plan. Lynn and Sal say that their success proves that “even people of modest backgrounds can make a difference.” The endowment supports pilot projects in breast cancer research and benefits researchers who have brilliant ideas but can’t yet get National Institutes of Health funding. At this stage of research, only private dollars can help, and “a little bit can go a long way,” Sal says.

Since her first climb in 2005, Lynn has made 20 additional climbs and has raised an amazing $340,000. While continuing to receive chemotherapy for her fourth cancer diagnosis, Lynn recently summited Mount St. Helens and plans another climb to celebrate her 75th birthday in August — all to raise additional funds and further their commitment to curing cancer.

To learn more about endowment gifts, visit

Michael Rubin is not only a Fred Hutch employee; he is a former Hutch patient as well. In 1987, he had a bone marrow transplant for leukemia. April 1, 2017 marked the 30th anniversary of his lifesaving treatment.

As Director of Philanthropic Gifts in Fred Hutch’s Philanthropy department, Michael is dedicated to raising money for cancer research. As father to his teenage daughter, Mallory, he is immensely grateful for his time with her. He chose to include Fred Hutch in his will because of his deeply personal connection to our mission to eliminate cancer. “The people of the Hutch work so hard to give people like me a second chance at living full and meaningful lives — I give back because they can’t do it alone.”

Yahn Bernier and Beth McCaw view philanthropy as a family value. Since the earliest days of their marriage, they set up bequests to ensure that the charitable organizations they support will benefit after they are gone. Their goal is not only to help those causes but to send a message to future generations. They want to impress upon their young daughter the importance of giving as a lifelong passion. “We were given great gifts, but they’re just ours to hold for a very short period of time,” Beth says.

In 1998, they left budding legal careers in Atlanta to move to the Seattle area, where Yahn had an opportunity to try something completely different. He joined a small start-up company, Valve, to help design video games. Until then, it had just been a hobby for him, but he certainly had a knack for it: Valve today is one of the world’s leading video game producers. Beth continued her career as an estate-planning attorney, which brought her to the Washington Women’s Foundation and a network of Fred Hutch supporters.

“We’re both fairly entrepreneurial people — we really love this spirit of innovation here at the Hutch,” she says. “Yahn and I both felt like medical research was an important thing for us to fund.”

Cancer research is close to their hearts. Beth’s mother is a breast cancer survivor, and Yahn’s mother died of complications from throat cancer. And the couple believes their Hutch involvement provides lessons to their 9-year-old: “We’re always looking for ways to engage our daughter in philanthropy and in science,” Yahn says.

When David Strong was diagnosed with esophageal cancer in 2004, he was devastated. He was also determined to get the best care possible, so he flew back to Boston, the city where he and his wife Anne Jannetti had grown up, to get a second opinion from the doctors at Massachusetts General.

“We knew there was good care there but they told me, ‘If you’re in Seattle, you’re in really good hands,’” he said. “That felt great.”

Strong returned to Seattle and met his surgeon and medical oncologist, both of whom had trained at Massachusetts General before moving to the Northwest. His oncologist Dr. Renato Martins was even wearing a Red Sox jersey and hat the day the two met.

“He went to Harvard,” he said. “That’s how he became a Red Sox fan. It was good from that day on.”

Much like his favorite baseball team — which after 87 years, finally won their first World Series — Strong is incredibly resilient. The longtime executive chef even worked through most of his treatment, which included chemotherapy, radiation and extensive surgery.

“Working through treatment was important to me,” said the 61-year-old survivor. “It kept my mind off of it. I used to leave work every day at 11 o’clock and then be up there at SCCA at 12 to hit the infusion room and then radiation.”

Since treatment, Strong and his wife Anne Jannetti have become avid travelers, visiting 36 countries all over the world. Their favorite destination: Paris.

“We always did love to travel but [the cancer] really put it into perspective,” said Jannetti. “There’s nothing like a diagnosis to make you realize life is short.”

The lifesaving cancer treatment Strong received at Fred Hutch’s clinical care partner, SCCA, also made the pair realize the value of research, which is why they decided to make Fred Hutch a beneficiary of their retirement plans.

“We’re compelled by the Hutch’s big hairy audacious goals to cure cancer,” she said. “That’s important to us. Cancer is a strong adversary and we fought back just as hard. We had topnotch care at SCCA powered by lifesaving Hutch research on our side!”

For the patients who will benefit from this couple’s generosity, that’s a home run.

With both hands, Gene Barnes clutches the neatly bound book. It is wrapped in a deep purple dust jacket on which shine the gold letters of its title, The Story of a Courageous Lady. He softly turns the pages that preserve so many of the stories and photographs from the life of his treasured wife, Beverly.

Gene assembled the book himself after Beverly died in 2006. It is an especially fitting tribute since the couple first met while browsing a book carousel at a Christian singles conference in Seattle in 1981. Eight weeks later they married. For the next 25 years, Gene, a teacher born in Kansas but raised in Washington, and Beverly, a native of Nova Scotia who moved to British Columbia after college, never stopped making memories together. They loved biking, hiking, skiing and, especially, traveling.

In 2001, their life took an unwelcome turn: Beverly was diagnosed with leukemia. “After about six months [of treatment], we were in remission,” Gene remembers, “and then we … began living our lives again. We even took a couple trips.” In 2005, they added another memorable adventure, completing the 206-mile Seattle to Portland bike ride, something Beverly had always wanted to do.

But by the end of that year, the cancer returned, so Beverly and Gene came to Fred Hutch in Seattle so she could receive a bone marrow transplant. Things went well for the first few months after the treatment, until complications emerged from a side effect called graft-vs.-host disease, in which the donor cells attack the patient’s healthy tissues.

“It was a trying time … and of course that is part of the reason for me wanting to make a donation, a legacy,” Gene says. He decided to name Fred Hutch as the beneficiary of a commercial annuity, to make it possible for researchers to create safer, less arduous therapies — to help them start new cures.

“I noticed that a lot of good things have occurred here [at Fred Hutch], a lot of very important people, doctors, have been here and done some very important work, and when you have Nobel Prize winners, well, you know that something good is going on here.”

The other reason behind both Gene’s planned gift and the biography he lovingly crafted, which he’s donated to the Fred Hutch library, is no less heartfelt: “I just want other people to be able to share a little bit of what Bev was really like,” he says. “I want the memory of Beverly to live on.”

Jay Holman became engaged in the research at Fred Hutch for many reasons. Breast cancer took the life of his mother, Lucille, at the age of 65, and his sister Lynn Holman Riggs was successfully treated for the disease this past year. Jay himself had surgery for stage 2 melanoma in July 2010.

Throughout his follow-up care, Jay admired the scientific innovation he witnessed firsthand at Fred Hutch as well as the skillful application of this innovation at the Hutch’s treatment arm, Seattle Cancer Care Alliance.

Jay is a retired city manager of SeaTac, Washington, and retired lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Air Force Reserve. His scientific curiosity stirred as his health improved, and his ties to the Hutch grew stronger. At events, he took the opportunity to speak with scientists, including immunologist Dr. Philip Greenberg, to keep tabs on current research, and he toured the lab of melanoma researcher Dr. Sylvia Lee. Jay takes detailed notes at his own SCCA checkups with Dr. Shailender Bhatia. Every spring, he enrolls in the daylong Northwest Melanoma Symposium.

“I’m almost getting my M.D. here,” he jokes.

Impressed by the Hutch’s experts, grateful for the help he has received, and mindful of his family’s struggle with cancer, Jay began thinking of ways to help Fred Hutch. To honor his parents, he created the John H. and Lucille V. Holman Endowment Fund. Half of his bequest will fund melanoma research; the rest will support breast cancer research.

Through his planned gift, Jay wants not only to honor the past, but to acknowledge the Hutch teams who have kept him healthy and whose research builds hope for the future.

“The field is exploding right now. There is a revolution in treatment,” Jay says. “Let’s get serious about trying to do away with cancer.”

It was 1983, and the stars were aligning for Laura DiLella. She and her husband, Jim, just had a baby boy after a long struggle with infertility. Laura was back at work as a nurse at a New Jersey hospital, a job she loved. Then Laura started having bouts of fever and fatigue. She went to her physician, never expecting the diagnosis: acute myelogenous leukemia. She and Jim were devastated. Suddenly, the stars fell from the sky.

Three thousand miles away, as Laura and her family contemplated treatment options and struggled with the plague of emotions that stalk a frightening disease, Dr. E. Donnall Thomas and a team of researchers at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle were pioneering techniques in bone marrow transplantation that held hope for patients like Laura. Her oncologist urged her to go to Fred Hutch.

Laura made the journey to Seattle for treatment. Over the next four months, with the help of her family and friends (her sister would be her bone marrow donor), she went through the arduous and often lonely ordeal. When she returned home, Laura was filled, as she described, “with a sense of hope for my future” and a determination to help others going through the same thing.

Five years later, Laura became an oncology counselor and helped start a bone marrow transplant support group at the medical center where she then worked. Three decades after her cure, Laura still practices what many cancer survivors discover — the joy of living one day at a time. She and Jim have especially found everyday joy in watching their son, Jimmy, grow up. He is now a successful and happily married man, soon to be a father himself.

During her time at Fred Hutch, Laura learned two indelible lessons: Cures for cancer can spring only from innovative scientific research, and the embrace of family and friends is vital for patients as they journey through treatment. For these reasons, Laura and Jim have established a charitable lead trust, which provides income to support patients through Fred Hutch’s Family Assistance Fund.

Dr. Lora-Ellen McKinney knows that world-class cancer treatments require world-class research. As a volunteer member of Fred Hutch’s Institutional Review Board (IRB), she evaluates the design and conduct of our clinical trials to make sure Fred Hutch research meets the highest standards.

In clinical trials, researchers must first glean information about how treatments work from small groups of patients, so it’s imperative that patients in these trials reflect the diversity of the wider population as much as possible. Lora-Ellen believes in sharing medical breakthroughs with all, and her IRB role enables her to support clinical trials designed to include ethnically diverse participants.

Lora-Ellen’s role in the IRB is an outgrowth of her lifelong work as a community-oriented trailblazer. Her wide-ranging career as a researcher, child clinical psychologist, policy analyst and hospital administrator working with at-risk children and minority patients taught her how diversity in research benefits health care. She even served as the first African American page in the Washington State Legislature.

To devise brilliant methods to treat and prevent cancer, “you absolutely must have researchers willing to imagine and investigate crazy ideas, and Fred Hutch scientists do this incredibly well,” Lora-Ellen says. “Fred Hutch gives hope,” she says.

Lora-Ellen knows that innovation leads to hope and requires philanthropic support, which is why she is providing for Fred Hutch through a bequest in her will. Her gift will provide Fred Hutch with resources to engage African American participation in clinical trials for cancer and infectious diseases.