Meet Our Champions

New Partnership Creates Lung Cancer Research Endowment

Lung cancer awareness is on the rise in Wisconsin, thanks to the efforts of local survivor Sue Eber and Gundersen oncologist Kurt Oettel, MD.

November is national Lung Cancer Awareness Month,  a campaign dedicated to bringing much-needed support and attention to a disease that each year kills more people than breast, prostate, colon and pancreas cancers combined. There has been a groundswell of grassroots support for lung cancer awareness at Gundersen Health System, thanks to the tireless efforts of oncologist Kurt Oettel, MD, and lung cancer survivor Sue Eber, a longtime supporter of Gundersen Medical Foundation.

For Dr. Oettel, it’s been a three-part mission to increase awareness of progress in lung cancer among his fellow physicians; foster collaboration between Gundersen and University of Wisconsin-Madison in lung cancer research projects; and improve the efficiency of lung cancer care here at home. For Sue Eber, an active member of Gundersen’s lung cancer awareness group, it’s become a passionate personal cause. “When I was diagnosed four years ago, I knew nothing about lung cancer,” says Sue. “Lung cancer is not who I am; however, lung cancer awareness is who I’ve become. I’m going to stick around as long as I possibly can to make a difference.”

The desire and opportunity to make a difference in the detection and treatment of lung cancer has led to a growing partnership with the University of Wisconsin’s Paul Carbone Comprehensive  Cancer Center in Madison. Lung cancer support groups from each organization regularly hold joint meetings by teleconference. Dr. Oettel and staff from Gundersen’s Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders have collaborated with their Madison counterparts to raise awareness about lack of  in Wisconsin and throughout the country. Gundersen Medical Foundation has now joined the partnership by committing to a joint fundraising campaign that will create an endowment to support a full-time lung cancer research professorship at the Wisconsin Institutes for Medical Research (WIMR) at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health in Madison. An entire floor of the new facility will house researchers dedicated to cancers of the lungs, and head and neck.

“This partnership sends a real message that our state is aware of the tremendous need for lung cancer research and is committed to making a difference,” says Robyn Tanke, CFRE, senior director of development for Gundersen Medical Foundation. “It’s not only the right thing to do; it’s the right time. Once it is established and fully funded, the lung cancer wing at the Wisconsin Institutes for Medical Research will  be among the top tier of lung cancer research centers in the country, if not the only one.”

The goal of the campaign is to raise $1 million, with Gundersen Luheran Medical Foundation committing to raise half (i.e., $500,000.) Dollars raised by the Foundation will establish a permanent lung cancer research endowment here, with a gift from endowment earnings granted to the University on an annual basis in support of the professorship. “The larger this endowment gets, the more dollars we’ll have to work with for future lung cancer research projects here at Gundersen,” explains Tanke. “We believe so strongly that the great things we are going to accomplish in Madison will benefit our patients through the ongoing collaboration with Dr. Oettel and Dr. Simon Shelley, who heads up our own cancer research laboratory.”

Sue Eber is enthusiastic about taking on another new role: that of champion for the lung cancer research endowment campaign. Together with her husband Dave, she is also making a substantial lead gift. “Believe me, we understand that it’s very difficult for people to give in the current economy, when they are rather unsure of what is going to happen next,” says Sue. “People aren’t going to give if they don’t understand the need. I see this role as a continuation of what I’ve been doing: raising awareness about the severity of the situation with lung cancer and the importance of doing something.”

Among all the key players in this partnership, there is palpable excitement about the opportunity it presents and the positive momentum being generated. Sue Eber compares it to a rolling snowball, getting bigger and picking up speed. “There is no question in my mind that what comes from this research partnership is going to be outstanding, and it’s going to benefit the world eventually. But it is starting here—with Gundersen Medical Foundation being so responsive and proactive about taking the lead. I am honored to be associated with them on this.”

Why lung cancer research?

  • Lung cancer is the leading cause of death in the United States among every ethnic group. It accounts for 1 in every 3 cancer deaths.
  • Lung cancer kills more people than breast, prostate, colon, liver, kidney and melanoma—combined.
  • Lung cancer kills twice as many women than breast cancer.
  • Lung cancer kills three times as many men than prostate cancer.
  • Ten to fifteen percent of patients diagnosed with lung cancer have never smoked. Sixty percent of patients diagnosed with lung cancer are former smokers who quit decades ago.
  • Eighty-five percent of lung cancer patients will die within five years of diagnosis because of late-stage detection. No accurate screening mechanism has been established as a standard of practice, such as a mammogram for breast cancer or a colonoscopy for colon cancer. Many patients who receive early-stage detection were found by “accident.”

Why now?

  • Only sixteen percent of lung cancer is being diagnosed at its earliest and most curable stage.
  • So little progress has been made that lung cancer exceeds every other cause of death except heart disease in the United States.
  • Lung cancer continues to be the least funded in dollars per death of the four major cancers.

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