Grateful patient Lea Spencer: "We can't learn from each other if we don't share"
Lea Spencer was diagnosed with acute non lymphocytic leukemia at the age of 36. Fighting for a chance to see her son, then 16, graduate from high school, and her daughter, 10, begin middle school, the Sacramento woman sought out a clinical trial at UC Davis Cancer Center.
Now in her 50s, Spencer not only has watched both her son and daughter graduate from high school and attend college, she also has welcomed four grandchildren into the family. "I was diagnosed very late, and was not expected to recover," Spencer says. "Being part of that clinical trial was the difference between life and death for me."
As soon as she was strong enough, Spencer started giving back. She served as a volunteer member of the UC Davis Medical Center's Community Advisory Board for seven years, including one year as its chair. During her tenure, the board brought community leaders together to share their vision for the medical center and its role in the region, and played an integral role in choosing a successor to long-time hospital director Frank Loge.
Spencer was also appointed to serve on the executive board of the UC Davis Center for Women's Health, worked to bring the Ronald McDonald's Children House to the medical center campus and volunteered on behalf of efforts to increase the pool of potential bone marrow donors, especially African-American donors. Her family runs a foundation called the Humphrey Spencer Foundation, which was a sponsor for a recent Center for Women's Health event.
An opportunity to express gratitude
UC Davis Health System is at the forefront of innovative discoveries and the best treatments in medicine, solving critical health problems in such areas as neuroscience, cancer, vascular biology and infectious disease.
From bioengineering corneas that restore sight to the blind, to discovering a new, Parkinson's-like neurological disorder in older men, the health system translates its discoveries into better treatments for disease — treatments that are transforming the future of medicine and saving and improving lives around the globe.
That's why many patients, families, friends and staff choose to give back to the place that is making a positive impact on their lives. They know firsthand that their contribution will make an immediate difference in advancing health in their community and beyond.
The health system has embarked on a fundraising endeavor that makes it easy for grateful patients, their families, friends and the community to give back. If, like Lea Spencer, you would like to express your gratitude, please contact Michelle Tafoya, Grateful Giving Coordinator, at firstname.lastname@example.org or (916) 734-9117 to get started.
Whether you have a connection to a particular health system program or simply would like to help advance the future of medicine, your gift will have a significant impact on UC Davis Health System's research, education, patient-care efforts.
When she reached the 10-year survival mark, Spencer returned to UC Davis Cancer Center to share her story of survival with the support group for women she had helped start. She admits she felt some trepidation, and wasn't sure what she could contribute after so many years.
"But when it came my turn to introduce myself, and I told the group I had been diagnosed with ANLL and was 10 years out, a young girl, maybe about 19, who was there with her mother, just welled up with tears. She had just been diagnosed with ANLL, too, and she hadn't really believed it was possible to live that long with it. I knew then why I had come," Spencer says. "We can't learn from each other if we don't share."
Spencer moved to the Bay area several years ago. She says she is grateful to be a survivor, and for every new day that she has with her husband, daughter, grandchildren and other family members. But leukemia was not her last crisis. In 2003, her son, then 29, was diagnosed with lymphoma. He died three months later.
"It's a difficult world," she says. "But life is what you make it."
Since moving away, Spencer has continued to keep abreast of news from UC Davis Cancer Center and to look for opportunities to volunteer.
"When you are as sick as I was, the place where you are cared for comes to feel like a blanket," she explains. "It's as if you're in a storm and it's very rainy and wet, you're saturated with water, shivering and cold. For me, cancer was a storm and the Cancer Center was comforting and warm, like a blanket. Well, when that storm subsides and the sun comes out, you don't throw that blanket away. You keep it.
"I've remained very faithful to the Cancer Center because I know it has made such a difference in the life of our family, and such a difference for our region.
"That's where I find the most joy, being involved in ways that allow me to contribute in meaningful ways to my community."