By Jim Donovan
In 2002 my good friend died of cancer. He and I were at MIT together as undergraduates, where we shared a lot of great memories and developed a long-lasting friendship. Like most of us who walk with a loved one through a life-threatening disease, I experienced feelings of anger, sadness, and fear. I don’t have a medical background, and honestly didn’t understand some of the terminology that doctors used during the diagnosis and the treatment. This made me feel helpless. But I wanted to help. So I discovered other ways I could support my friend.
First and foremost, I tried to keep him positive and make him as comfortable as possible. I brought him the food he liked, watched movies with him, and stayed up late talking with him when he was sad and discouraged. I also tried to bring humor to his day because, as everyone knows, laughter is powerful medicine. I spent as much time with him as I could, depending on his needs and those of his family, and made sure to plan things for the future that he could look forward to. I reassured his wife that I would do anything to help her so his most important source of strength and comfort felt supported, too. And, so he would feel as informed as possible, I researched other patients in similar positions with the same cancer, and shared what I learned about their experiences.
After he passed, strong feelings of helplessness returned. I got involved where and how I could. I may not be qualified to have a ‘hands-on’ role in the health care industry, but I do have skills in business and finance which I can share with organizations to help advance their missions. Today I serve on the Board of Trustees of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and the Foundation for the National Institutes of Health Board of Directors. I am a member of The Lank Center for Genitourinary Oncology, and my wife and I established the Christy and Jim Donovan Fund for Prostate Cancer Research at Dana-Farber. I also co-host an annual breakfast fundraiser for the Institute; these gifts provided critical support to Mission Possible: The Dana Farber Campaign to Conquer Cancer.
This participation helped me process my grief over losing my friend. I continue to show my support for him every day through these activities. And it also changed my perspective on the fight against cancer. I realized it takes much more than doctors in the operating room and researchers in the lab. It takes regular people devoting their time, talents, and resources, whatever those may be, to champion the cause. I’m thankful I can use my business and financial background to support organizations dedicated to cancer research. I’m also an avid runner, so I also participate in road races to raise money. And, as corny as it may sound, I think of my friend when I run, and I really do feel as though I’m running towards the cure.
Jim Donovan is a Managing Partner at Goldman Sachs and an adjunct professor at the University of Virginia School of Law. He serves on the Board of Trustees of Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. He lives with his family in Virginia and is an avid runner.