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Giving to UC Davis Health System

Giving to UC Davis Health System

Grateful ovarian cancer patient gives back

When the ovarian cancer came, Pattie Laubhan made no plans to fight it beyond surgery. She had watched her aunt and mother struggle through their treatments for breast cancer, and it was not a journey she wanted to take.

Pattie LaubhanBut John Dalrymple, the hematologist-oncologist at UC Davis Cancer Center who had seen her through the successful operation, emphatically urged her to additionally have chemotherapy.

During that meeting and a long follow-up phone call, Dalrymple patiently answered her questions, eased her fears and, Laubhan recalls, "convinced me to go for it."

That was seven years ago, and today Laubhan is not only an inspiring cancer survivor, but also a one-woman fundraising machine for the cancer center that helped restore her health.

For the past five years, Laubhan has organized an annual golf tournament and dinner to raise money for ovarian cancer research. This year’s event, dubbed Passport to Discovery, was held in June at the Granite Bay Golf Club. The event is the backdrop for emotional reunions between patients and nurses, moving testimonials by cancer survivors and research updates from doctors that take place amid some lively rounds of golf.

Passport to DiscoveryPassport to Discovery is the backdrop for emotional reunions between patients and nurses, moving testimonials by cancer survivors and research updates from doctors that take place amid some lively rounds of golf.

All told, the tournaments have yielded more than $80,000 for the cancer center. The funds have been used to support ovarian cancer clinical trials as well as biomarker studies led by UC Davis researchers, said Gary Leiserowitz, the center’s chief of gynecologic oncology.

Laubhan and her husband, Randy, own and operate a commercial property rental business in Roseville. Even though she did not have a fundraising background, her hands-on approach in encouraging philanthropy vividly symbolizes how patients can become some of the cancer center’s most passionate – and important – advocates.

"There are few motivators more powerful than having a disease or having a family member with a disease," says Leiserowitz. "Pattie’s creativity in finding ways to generate dollars for research, and her commitment to help those afflicted with cancer, are just remarkable."

Laubhan says two forces spawned her desire to raise money for the cancer center and, through that charitable effort, increase awareness of the center’s achievements. The first motivator was simply her gratitude that "such a phenomenal facility staffed by such compassionate people was right here in my backyard. Cancer runs in my family, so I’ve had a lot of experience with doctors and institutions," says Laubhan, 59. "Given that, I know how amazing UC Davis truly is. They don’t just treat the disease – they treat the person."

"Pattie is a truly inspiring and passionate person who works tirelessly to inform others about ovarian cancer. She lights up when she speaks about the care she was given at UC Davis, and that makes me very proud to be an employee here."

Laubhan also was spurred to action by the uncommon nature of her cancer – and the fact that it receives far less attention than breast cancer or other, more prevalent cancers.

While breast cancer affects more women – 200,000 new cases are reported in the United States each year, compared with 22,000 new cases of ovarian cancer – the prognosis for patients with ovarian cancer is much bleaker.

When ovarian cancer is diagnosed at its earliest stage, the five-year disease-free survival rate is about 90 percent — meaning about nine in 10 patients will be alive in five years with no evidence of disease. But because its early symptoms are so subtle and nonspecific, two-thirds of women with the illness aren’t diagnosed until their disease is in an advanced stage. At that point, the five-year survival rate is 30 to 40 percent.

Laubhan also was spurred to action by the uncommon nature of her cancer – and the fact that it receives far less attention than breast cancer or other, more prevalent cancers.

"Given the grim prognosis for those with ovarian cancer, I think it’s important to support research because the competition for dollars is so intense," Laubhan said. "But beyond that, my goal is to remind people that those buildings you see when you’re driving down the freeway aren’t just some random medical campus, but an amazing asset that we need to recognize and appreciate."

Laubhan’s connection with UC Davis was forged by an odd twist of fate. After feeling ill for several days in the summer of 2003, she tried to see her regular physician but could not get an appointment. Unwilling to wait, she elected to see another doctor outside her insurance network.

Gary Leiserowitz"Pattie’s creativity in finding ways to generate dollars for research, and her commitment to help those afflicted with cancer, are just remarkable."

The physician who ordered an ultrasound test that revealed ovarian cancer then referred Laubhan to UC Davis – instead of to the hospital that Laubhan normally would have visited through her insurance plan.

"It was definitely a lucky turn of events," Laubhan recalled. "And I often say the best thing about getting sick was the opportunity to meet so many wonderful people who have enriched my life."

Passport to Discovery"Cancer runs in my family, so I’ve had a lot of experience with doctors and institutions. Given that, I know how amazing UC Davis truly is. They don’t just treat the disease – they treat the person."

After her visit with Dalrymple, she also met with hematologist-oncologist Sidney Scudder, who corroborated Dalrymple’s opinion that she should proceed with treatment. Laubhan subsequently underwent chemotherapy under Scudder’s care. A year later, she was ready to give back.

After considering an endowment and other, more traditional forms of charitable giving, the Laubhans decided that an annual golf tournament would be an ideal way to draw a diverse group of people and create a flock of new donors.

While the economic downturn has thinned tournament turnout and profits, the Laubhans’ energy and determination to carry the torch for years to come have not wavered. That spirit has left an enduring mark in the halls of the UC Davis Health System.

"Pattie is a truly inspiring and passionate person who works tirelessly to inform others about ovarian cancer," said Christine McGuire, the health system’s senior donor relations officer who has worked with the Laubhans for four years.

"Pattie lights up when she speaks about the care she was given at UC Davis, and that makes me very proud to be an employee here."