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No Laughing Matter: Philanthropy as the Best Medicine

John Drake, CFRE
Published:  04/24/2019

No_laughing_matter“Maybe it’s just a swollen lymph gland from mononucleosis,” my wife said reassuringly, trying to diagnose over the phone what our 24-year-old daughter described as a small but palpable lump in her neck. My wife and I were 5,600 miles away from home and on our 30th wedding anniversary trip. It was the summer of 2018 and the long-distance diagnosis was a best guess — exactly what it also would have been if we were standing smack-dab next to Grace. Neither her mother nor I was medically trained, but we both were superb at virtually kissing a boo-boo from halfway around the globe and predicting all would be fine.

After returning from our trip, it was Grace’s turn to travel. But her trip never left our hometown of Irving, Texas, and her itinerary was from one physician to another and finally to a surgeon. It wasn’t a swollen lymph gland from an infection. She went from being told it was “probably just a cyst” to “you need a biopsy.”


Anyone who’s had a cancer diagnosis — or who loves someone who has — knows the stomach-knotting worry that comes next while you wait days or weeks for results. Time crawls while mortal fear inflates faster than a recalled Takata car airbag.

British author and apologist C.S. Lewis wrote in The Problem of Pain, “In the most complex of all the creatures, Man…is enabled to foresee his own pain which henceforth is preceded with acute mental suffering, and to foresee his own death while keenly desiring permanence.” Cheerful, isn’t it?

The biopsy results came back. It confirmed thyroid cancer. The surgeon’s staff quickly scheduled a procedure to take out half of Grace’s thyroid gland. Depending on post-surgical pathology results, she might be able to keep the other half. Or, it might need to come out, too. It did.

A second surgery was scheduled within a few weeks. A couple of months later, Grace completed a radioactive iodine treatment that required her to be in isolation for five days. To be safe, no one (even our family’s two cats) could come within 6 feet of her.

If there is a bright side to Grace’s story, it is that she was diagnosed with one of the most successfully treated cancers. All her post-treatment imaging tests and bloodwork since have come back with the desired results. Her doctors will continue to monitor her as needed for the next few years, but her surgeon has reassured her that this would be just a “bump” on the road of her young life.

Throughout her treatment, Grace never had to leave Irving. All the doctors, specialists and surgeons were here. All her procedures were performed in her hometown. We owe this to the community of Irving’s support for philanthropy.

At a recent community fundraising event, I was able to thank the staff at our local Four Seasons Resort and Club for the total of $3 million it has given so far since 1992 — all of it to help improve cancer care at Baylor Scott & White Medical Center – Irving, which is where I work and where Grace received her oncology care.

Because Four Seasons Resort and other donors and friends in my hometown love humankind — and because they live out this literal definition of being philanthropists by giving support, volunteering their time, bringing flowers, making casseroles, praying or by showing love to others in so many ways — my family was helped along with hundreds of other families. My daughter was able to get all the medical services she needed without ever leaving our hometown.

Philanthropy — loving others — helped make this care possible. My work in development allowed me to help these philanthropists.

It did not take my child’s illness, however, to teach me this central truth — but it punctuated it powerfully. I have known this fact for more than three decades and can date learning it back to the very first stewardship report I gave to a donor after her gift was used exactly as promised and she felt honored, appreciated and fulfilled.

This is what motivates all of us in our efforts each Monday through Sunday. It’s the joy of our work. It’s the honor of simply doing our job.

Grace received excellent care here in Irving, and there are certainly more beloved community members who will be able to receive the medical care they need without leaving their hometown — thanks to the community’s overwhelming support of health care philanthropy. 

NEWS  /12/20/17
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NEWS  /05/11/18
John Drake discusses what he wishes he knew before starting a career in health care philanthropy and why he believes events are effective strategies for securing major gifts.
NEWS  /02/27/19
We need to invest in the people working for nonprofits and their success the way the for-profit sector does.

Meet The Author

John Drake
John Drake, CFRE
Baylor Scott & White Foundation - Irving

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