Photo of Wieman and Dr. Boggan
Larry Wieman, shown with neurosurgeon James Boggan, established an endowment fund in his daughter's name to support brain tumor research at UC Davis.

When his daughter, Lori Wieman-Vasquez, died in 2004 following a 12-year battle with brain cancer, David “Larry” Wieman lost his best friend and only child. To honor her, and to support the research of the neurosurgeon who fought to save her life, the retired Sacramento civil engineer created a new endowment in brain cancer research at UC Davis Cancer Center.

“The endowment will be something that will continue to grow and be used so that everyone can remember Lori,” said Wieman, who spent his career with the California Department of Transportation and continues to serve as a member of the Board of Directors of the California Transportation Foundation. “Perhaps we can make a little bit of difference in saving someone from what Lori had to go through for so many years. That's my hope.”

James E. Boggan, the UC Davis neurosurgeon who diagnosed Vasquez's brain tumor and saw her through multiple surgeries and bouts of radiation over the course of her long illness, has pledged to help build the endowment.

“I am personally committed to finding matching funds for this research, because it is so important to Larry and honors a woman who touched all of us with her courage and enthusiasm for life,” said Boggan, professor and vice chair of the Department of Neurological Surgery.

“Lori always had great faith and determination, and fought her illness with dignity until the end,” Boggan added. “She was an important member of our brain tumor support group, and her sunny disposition and positive attitude had an effect on many other patients.”

Childhood in Sacramento

Born in San Bernardino, Lori spent most of her childhood in Sacramento's Pocket Area. She and her dad kayaked down the American River, camped at Lake Tahoe and went for drives with the top down in the family's blue Oldsmobile convertible. Each February, Larry and Virginia Wieman celebrated their daughter's birthday with an overnight in San Francisco, staying at Fisherman's Wharf and having dinner at a favorite French restaurant. Many weekends and holidays were spent at Inverness on Tomales Bay in Marin County, Point Reyes, Mendocino and Monterey, fostering in Lori a lifelong love of the sea.

Lori grew up, married her high school sweetheart and had a son, Fabian, and daughter, Angela. In 1992, when Fabian and Angela were 14 and 11, Lori was diagnosed with brain cancer.

Under Boggan's care, the young mother underwent surgery and a round of radiation that provided a six-year remission from the disease. A second surgery and course of radiation in 1998 kept the tumor in check for another three years. Chemotherapy in 2002 and a third surgery in 2003 each bought her an additional year.

The extra time brought joy and tragedy. Lori was strong enough to nurse her mother, who was diagnosed with colon cancer in 1998, through her illness and death three years later. While mourning her mother, she survived a divorce from her husband. But she also lived to welcome a granddaughter, Cynthia Virginia, born in 2002 to Fabian and his wife, Monica. Lori cared for the brown-eyed baby when Monica went back to work.

The family celebrated each New Year at the shore.

Lori Wieman-Vasquez died on Feb. 29, 2004, on a final trip to the ocean, her dad and daughter at her bedside. Following a memorial service at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral in Sacramento, her ashes were scattered outside the Golden Gate, as was her wish.

Keeping her memory alive

Photo of Larry Wieman
"Perhaps we can make a little bit of difference in saving someone from what Lori had to go through for so many years," Larry Wieman said.

Right away, Larry Wieman began looking for ways to keep his daughter's memory alive. He wrote and published a poignant book about Lori, focusing on her happy childhood, her joy in motherhood and her courage in facing the many hardships in her adult life. He also decided to donate $11,000 — a significant share of his life's savings — to the UC Davis School of Medicine's Department of Neurological Surgery to establish an endowment fund in Lori's name to support brain tumor research.

Boggan will put the fund to work immediately, as he endeavors to build on it. The neurosurgeon is part of a multidisciplinary neuro-oncology research team at UC Davis focused on advancing the treatment of brain cancers. He is also co-director of the National Science Foundation-funded Center for Biophotonics Science and Technology at UC Davis, where scientists are harnessing light to diagnose and treat cancer and other diseases.

“This generous gift honors a very genuine person who fought her illness with dignity until the end,” said Boggan, who remembers Lori for her faith, determination, enthusiasm for life and positive attitude. “It will seed an endowment that will support brain cancer research at UC Davis until patients no longer suffer and die from this disease.”

UC Davis Cancer Center is the nation's 61st National Cancer Institute-designated cancer center, serving a region of more than 6 million people. Its 220 scientists are at work on more than 300 projects aimed at eliminating the suffering and death due to cancer.