A Legacy of Giving Back
When Steve Sears was diagnosed with cancer in 2011, he found solace in reading Siddhartha Mukherjee’s groundbreaking biography of cancer, "The Emperor of All Maladies." The book, which chronicles the epic journey of human understanding and reckoning with cancer, gave Sears a new perspective of his own experience.
“My friends and family couldn’t understand why I chose to read a book about cancer while going through cancer,” Sears reminisces. “But it helped me understand how lucky I am to live in a time when my cancer can be treated so completely that my life returns to normal. It’s what sustained me throughout the entire experience.”
There is no time to waste if there is a research project that stands to save lives now. –Steve SearsCancer survivor
From his first brush with cancer, as well as a relapse in 2012, came Sears’ gratitude and appreciation for cancer research. And, as a man who is determined to live his best possible life, he has given himself fully to this newfound passion. One of the ways he has done this is by pledging a planned gift to The University of Kansas Cancer Center’s bone marrow transplant research program, led by Joseph McGuirk, DO. This form of giving, sometimes also called estate planning or legacy giving, is a way for donors to leave money or assets to a nonprofit at the time of his or her death.
“As opposed to a traditional endowed fund, I chose planned giving so that The University of Kansas Cancer Center would receive my support instantly. There is no time to waste if there is a research project that stands to save lives now,” Sears says.
A life-changing diagnosis
About the time of his retirement in 2011, Sears began experiencing flu-like symptoms that became progressively worse. His primary care doctor conducted exams and tests and ultimately referred him to a hematologist, who diagnosed him with stage 4b Hodgkin lymphoma.
“The doctors were shocked that I had progressed to that point. Within 24 hours, I was sitting down for my first round of chemotherapy,” Sears says.
At the time of his diagnosis, Sears and his husband, John, lived in Boston and had just bought a house in Kansas City. They opted to remain in Boston for his treatment, and after 12 rounds of chemotherapy, they moved to Kansas City and transitioned Steve’s care to The University of Kansas Cancer Center. Sears experienced a difficult setback 6 months later when he relapsed with stage 4b lymphoma. Five years after a stem cell transplant, Sears is now in remission.
“Throughout the entire process, I educated myself about the treatments I was receiving,” Sears recalls. “I realized that it was research that was keeping me alive. I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for the decades of research conducted by those who dedicated their careers to finding a way to treat and cure cancer.”
Before his diagnosis, when the source of his flu-like symptoms remained a mystery, Sears often ruminated about Marvin’s Grove, a parcel of historic green space located on the University of Kansas’ Lawrence campus. A KU alumnus and former Jayhawk mascot, Sears found respite crossing this quiet corner of campus on his way home from class.
The grove served as a calming visualization throughout his chemotherapy and subsequent stem cell transplant. As such, Marvin’s Grove will be another recipient of Sears’ generous estate planning.
Time is an additional asset that Sears gives to his passions. In 2018, he reprised his role as a mascot, this time creating and appearing as Parker, the huggable bear mascot for his primary school alma mater – Merriam Park Elementary. In addition, once a week, Sears employs his “broadcast” voice to read the Wichita Eagle newspaper to the blind through KU’s Audio Reader service.
As a Sigma Nu fraternity alumni officer, he also organized a Be the Match registration drive for the national bone marrow database. Ten registration events in January 2018, encompassing KU’s largest fraternities and sororities, generated 535 potential young, healthy, lifesaving donors.
Ultimately, Sears says, it’s about finding ways to support people in need. Recently, he has found himself on the other side of cancer diagnoses, as a supporter to his family and friends fighting their own cancer battles. About 1 in 3 Americans will be diagnosed with cancer at some point in their life. Sears believes that’s why cancer research is needed more than ever.
“Cancer research has saved me twice,” Sears says. “Every day I am reminded that I’m one of the lucky ones. All the people over the decades who have gotten cancer treatment to this point – the doctors, patients, supporters – made it possible for me to live. Whether I get to help a close friend or someone I may never know, I want to help.”
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