Donor Stories


Madlyn and Leonard Abramson

In 1997, the Abramson family's gift of $100 million established the Abramson Family Cancer Research Institute (AFCRI) of the University of Pennsylvania. Madlyn and Leonard's remarkable vision has become the catalyst for growth and international prominence of the Abramson Cancer Center. Their funding supports groundbreaking cancer research as well as complementary services that include nutritional and psychosocial counselors, patient service coordinators and a unique cancer rehabilitation program that help our patients and their families cope as they go through the diagnostic, treatment and recovery stages of cancer. In 2010, the Abramson Family extended their generosity once again by making a tremendous $25.5 million gift to continue to support basic science and translational research at the AFCRI, which is among the nation's leaders in the development of new ways to diagnose and treat cancer patients. The entire Penn and Greater Philadelphia communities are proud of the

Rose and Paul Astor

"We are so pleased to support Penn’s Abramson Cancer Center with the planned gift of a bequest because it's our way to leave a lasting legacy for all of the brilliant and compassionate staff who has helped us over the years. It is comforting to know that our support will continue to bring hope to people who are affected by cancer and will contribute to the fight against cancer long after we are gone."

Steve and Paige Atlass

Within hours, Steve Atlass became both a father and cancer patient. Upon hearing about his cancer diagnosis, his wife Paige went into premature labor, and thankfully today all are healthy. Grateful for his medical care, Steve and Paige made a gift to the Perelman Center for Advanced Medicine to provide essential funding for the completion of new outpatient facilities for the Abramson Cancer Center. Steve is part of the Abramson Cancer Center Director's Leadership Council, having served an extended term as Chair, and acts as one of our strongest advocates for our patient care and research programs. "There is hope. There are diseases that four or five years ago were death sentences, and they're not anymore, and that seems to be happening every day here at the Abramson Cancer Center."

Barness Family

For three generations, the Barness family has been tireless advocates for cancer research and patient care in Philadelphia. Starting with parents the late Irma and Herbert Barness, continuing with sisters Nancy and Lynda Barness, and now keeping the tradition of philanthropy going, Jennifer and Daniel Stern – the Abramson Cancer Center is grateful for the many generations who help sustain our mission! In 1993, sisters Lynda and Nancy Barness created the Herbert and Irma Barness Research Fund to honor their parents and support cancer research at Penn's Abramson Cancer Center. Family members and friends make regular contributions throughout the year to recognize special events and occasions. Their mother Irma was an accomplished painter, and when she passed away in 2013, not only did the family auction her artwork to raise vital cancer research funds, but they also donated a few pieces to be placed in the hospital, so that patients and families could find inspiration and

Marilyn and Robert Birnhak

"Nutrition and exercise are so important to healthy living, and my husband and I have worked to make a positive impact on the community surrounding us by founding Weight Watchers of Philadelphia, Inc. Sadly, our daughter Tracey lost her battle with breast cancer at a very young age, and we were grateful to honor her spirit by creating the Tracey Birnhak Nutritional Counseling Program at Penn’s Abramson Cancer Center to provide enhanced care through nutrition and exercise classes and informational materials to cancer patients and survivors." - Marilyn Birnhak The Tracey Birnhak Nutritional Counseling Program provides vital information to educate patients, survivors, and families about the impact of nutrition throughout the cancer journey – guiding patients through a range of nutritional issues including disease specific cancer protective nutrition plans, complementary and alternative therapies, symptom management, and weight management both during and after treatments.

Andrew J. Cohen

"I was extremely close with my sister. In fact, growing up I truly viewed her as my best friend.  After she passed, I felt compelled to do something so other families do not experience what our family went through. The Marjorie B. Cohen Foundation was created to provide the essential education to high risk individuals and families." Andrew J. Cohen lost his 38-year-old sister, Marjorie, to breast cancer in 2001, only one year after his 59-year-old father died of colon cancer. The family learned, through the illness, that Marjorie carried a genetic mutation that dramatically increased her risk of breast cancer. In 2001, Andy, his family, and Marjie's friends established the Marjorie B. Cohen Foundation which funds the Marjorie B. Cohen Fund for Cancer Genetics Research at the Abramson Cancer Center. The Fund supports research on the best ways to educate people about their genetic risk of cancer as well as outreach into the community. The Foundation hosts

Cheryl A. Colleluori HEADstrong Foundation

"My son Nicholas Colleluori was treated at the Abramson Cancer Center under the care of Dr. Stephen Schuster. He lost his 14-month battle to non-hodgkins lymphoma. He was 21 years old. We want to be able to give back to this wonderful institution that cared for him, and honor him every day for the rest of my life." Nicholas “Head” Colleluori was a 2004 graduate of Ridley High School and Division I lacrosse player for Hofstra University. Nicholas was amazing person, an undersized athlete that was noted for his aggressiveness and relentless character on the field. In his sophomore year at Hofstra University, after experiencing allergy like symptoms, he was diagnosed with Non- Hodgkin's Lymphoma, a vicious type of blood cancer that affects the lymphatic system. He battled the disease relentlessly for 14 months, undergoing intense chemotherapy, radiation, a stem cell transplant, and experimental treatments. He was a true inspiration. While sick, Nicholas

Rena Rowan Damone and Vic Damone

Rena Rowan Damone and Vic Damone continue their support of Penn's breast cancer programs by funding the relocation of the Rena Rowan Breast Center into the new Perelman Center for Advanced Medicine and including the Center in their estate plans. Mrs. Damone helped set the standard for disease-specific clinics for patient care within the Abramson Cancer Center and beyond. On October 29, 2010, we celebrated the 10 year anniversary of the Rena Rowan Breast Center, and it remains a model for breast cancer care across the nation. On the night of the Breast Center's 10 year anniversary, Rena Rowan Damone shared: "The Rena Rowan Breast Center is an endeavor which we consider to be one of our most gratifying accomplishments. The great work performed by Drs. John Glick, Kevin Fox, and their colleagues, as well as all of their staff deserve the greatest degree of credit for the wonderfully growing success of the Breast Center's endeavors. And to all of you we express our deep abiding

Mario R. DiBenedetto

"I am a loyal supporter of the Abramson Cancer Center because I'm impressed with how they go about balancing their business, and I want to provide unrestricted funds to allow them the flexibility to do so. They offer clinical services and advanced research, and never lose sight of the patient. They recognize that research is the lifeblood of what they do and often the lifeblood of their patients." Gifts to the Abramson Cancer Center Annual Fund provide essential, unrestricted funding needed to advance treatments and provide compassionate care to our patients and their families.

Karen and Samuel Farruggio

"I thank God, my wife and family, and the physicians and nurses at the Abramson Cancer Center for saving my life. The personalized care they give won our family's hearts. We don't support unrestricted annual giving to receive recognition or thanks; we support it because we want to give back for as long as we can." Gifts to the Abramson Cancer Center Annual Fund provide essential, unrestricted funding needed to advance treatments and provide compassionate care to our patients and their families.

George Gallup

"For 8 years, my late wife, Kinny, and I made weekly trips from Princeton, NJ to the Abramson Cancer Center. Any anxiety or trepidation we experienced during such trips was immediately dispelled by the compassionate and professional care given to Kinny by Dr. John H. Glick and his entire staff. That is why I have decided to remember the Abramson Cancer Center in my estate plans."

David Goldstein and Deena Goldstein

"Our dear husband and father passed away from this insidious disease in 2005. We know how crucial it is that appropriate resources be provided to the great minds at the Abramson Cancer Center. Our dream is that families and patients alike will not have to suffer and can share a full life together. We hope to be a small part of the solution that conquers cancer in honor of our beloved Arthur Goldstein." David Goldstein also serves as Co-Chair of the Young Friends of the Abramson Cancer Center. In addition to his family’s annual support, David recently started a fund to support the work of young investigators and clinical fellows, whose brilliant ideas often go unrealized because of a lack in funding. This support is vital to launching the careers of tomorrow's medical leaders who will ensure that our mission to eradicate cancer will be accomplished.

Karen Hoffman

Karen Hoffman, a patient treated by John Glick, MD, Former Director of Penn's Abramson Cancer Center and President of Abramson Family Cancer Research Institute, is a strong advocate for Penn Medicine and Penn's Abramson Cancer Center, recognizing the importance and promise of having access to the best possible are right here in Philadelphia. Karen is a second-generation patient of Dr. Glick. Her father was treated for liver cancer at Penn in the early 1980s, and during his month-long stay in the hospital, Dr. Glick made it a point to visit him every single day. "I remember thinking more than once that if I ever needed him, I hoped that he would be there for me too," Karen said. On July 22, 2004, Karen learned that she had breast cancer. Her husband immediately called Dr. Glick. John asked to speak to Karen. "Today is your worst day," he assured her. "Everyday you will be a little better. We are going to take care of you." Karen believed him, and found that everything he told her was

Irv Hurwitz

"The Abramson Cancer Center provides excellent clinical care, while their research is truly at the forefront in the battle against cancer. I feel lucky to have such a world-class facility in the Philadelphia area and I am pleased to be a loyal supporter of their efforts. I make annual gifts to the Abramson Cancer Center not only to express my gratitude and appreciation to all of its wonderful doctors and nurses, but also because I see it as an important way to invest in improving the quality of life for cancer patients and survivors in our community and beyond." Gifts to the Abramson Cancer Center Annual Fund provide essential, unrestricted funding needed to advance treatments and provide compassionate care to our patients and their families.

Esther and Marc Kaplin

"We have been extremely fortunate in life to be in a position to give back to the community and the many organizations that have made an impact on our lives. We wanted a vehicle that would help us support the charities that are meaningful to us, but in a different way. Utilizing a donor advised fund helps us continue our love for philanthropy, but still remain flexible with our contributors." Esther and Marc utilize a donor advised fund to support the Perelman Center for Advanced Medicine and Penn's Program for Mindfulness.

Ellen and Jerry Lee

"When I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I could have gone anywhere. Because I wanted the best doctors possible, I chose the Abramson Cancer Center. Today, I stand before you cancer-free... and happy.

I wouldn't be here today if generous donor

Mariann and Robert MacDonald

With an extraordinary leadership gift in 2006, Mariann and Robert MacDonald endowed the Mariann T. and Robert J. MacDonald Professorship in Breast Cancer Care Excellence at the Abramson Cancer Center. More recently in 2010, they made another transformational gift to endow the Mariann T. and Robert J. MacDonald Cancer Risk Evaluation Center. Their significant generosity will truly change the face of ways to prevent and treat cancer and give Penn Medicine the tools needed to recruit and retain the very best breast cancer clinicians for years to come. Although Mariann now lives in Florida throughout the year, she still returns to Penn for her medical care. At the opening of the Mariann T. and Robert J. MacDonald Cancer Risk Evaluation Center, Mariann shared: "Bob, Megan and I are so honored and pleased to be here tonight to support Penn Medicine, to support Dr. Domchek, and her very talented research team. I believe that this is the moment of incredible promise, and one that

Elaine and the late Melvin Merians

As a breast cancer survivor, Elaine Merians, as well as other women in her family, has utilized the expert care available at the Abramson Cancer Center, including genetic counseling. In 2003, Elaine and her husband Melvin used a charitable remainder trust to support a research program within the Department of Radiation Oncology. "I got to support the physician who treated me,” said Elaine, “and at the same time receive an income from the gift." University of Pennsylvania alum, the late Melvin Merians was confident in Penn’s ability to manage his and Elaine’s charitable remainder trust. He was also enthusiastic to give back to the place that helped him discover his passions as a young man and helped his wife beat breast cancer later in life. "Penn has a great charitable remainder trust program," Melvin said. "It's well-managed, easy to use, and a solid way to give. You not only get an income, but you support a very important cause."

Allison and Richard Prezelski

"I was 29 when I was diagnosed with testicular cancer. My wife was pregnant, my friends were complaining about turning 30. I thought, if there is one thing I can accomplish, I want to live to see 30. The day I turned 30 was the happiest birthday I ever

Miriam Schneirov

For many years I have made an annual contribution to the Abramson Cancer Center because of the excellent research and care going on there. It's a gift that carries my gratitude as well as my ardent hope that we can make cancer a disease our children and children's children won't have to contend with in the future." Miriam Schneirov, a breast cancer survivor, felt the Abramson Cancer Center's overwhelming dedication to comprehensive care at her first appointment.  Today, this Penn alumna, still marvels at the commitment "to me as a person" that defines everything the Cancer Center's physicians, nurses, and staff do. Gifts to the Abramson Cancer Center Annual Fund provide essential, unrestricted funding needed to advance treatments and provide compassionate care to our patients and their families.

The late Allison Smith

Allison Smith worked at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania for many years and was an avid volunteer even after retirement.  She later became a patient at the Rena Rowan Breast Center and made generous annual gifts to support breast cancer research and patient care excellence. After battling breast cancer for over two decades, Allison passed away at the age of 90, and left an extraordinary gift to continue her support of this disease.

Barbara and Leonard Sylk

"Our association with this world-class cancer center and the entire medical complex at Penn has afforded us a comfort level and feeling of satisfaction that cannot be duplicated. We are pleased to be a part of their current research, and future success in the eradication of cancer." By naming the Abramson Cancer Center the beneficiary of a substantial life insurance policy, Barbara and Leonard Sylk were able to build upon their ongoing commitment to the Abramson Cancer Center and the legacy they have already established. Their generous planned gift represents the Sylks continued leadership in strengthening the Abramson Cancer Center’s outreach and patient care efforts.

Kay and Arthur Tuch

"As a cancer survivor of over 6 years, I am amazed to see how far cancer treatment and research continue to grow. I am forever grateful for the wonderful care I received at the Abramson Cancer Center. Supporting the Annual Fund is our way of saying thanks, and knowing that our gifts help provide hope to other patients and their families." Gifts to the Abramson Cancer Center Annual Fund provide essential, unrestricted funding needed to advance treatments and provide compassionate care to our patients and their families.

Inez and Barry Wade

Inez and Barry Wade’s support of the Abramson Cancer Center began 20 years ago during Inez's brother Stanley's brief yet valiant battle with Acute Myeloid Leukemia. While Stanley's team of physicians aggressively tackled his disease with all that was at their disposal, it became clear to Inez that research support was needed to truly advance treatment options for AML. "Upon my brother’s death, I was determined to do whatever I could to help treat and eradicate cancer. I decided to establish an endowment in autologous bone marrow treatment. My husband and I will continue to support the institution to the fullest of our family's ability."

David Wolfe

"Immediately upon being apprised of my cancer diagnosis, my partner John and I explored cancer centers across the country to identify the best treatment center and quickly learned that all roads lead to Penn's Abramson Cancer Center. We are forever indebted to the brilliant medical professionals for their impeccable care, compassion, and support. Consequently, in our estate planning we were proud to name the Abramson Cancer Center as a beneficiary. We find solace in knowing that our gift will assist other cancer patients by supporting the Abramson Cancer Center in its efforts to advance leading-edge research; provide the absolute best cancer care; and ultimately eradicate cancer as a source of human disease and suffering."

Jill Just Wants 2 Help

In 2008, at the age of 20, Jillian Aggie Siegel, a sophomore at Penn State, Main Campus, was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia (AML) during her final semester exams. Acute myeloid leukemia is cancer that starts inside bone marrow, the soft tissue inside bones that helps form blood cells. The cancer grows from cells that would normally turn into white blood cells. Jill persevered through months of treatments in the hope that she would be able to be given a second chance at life through a bone marrow transplant. She coped with courage; never losing her resolve. Jill was determined that through her own illness she could help others. From her hospital bed, she spent her time raising funds for a charity that supports childhood cancer. Sadly, in February 2009, Jillian Aggie Siegel lost her battle. Watching her and other adolescents in the hospital suffer through the arduous process of trying to conquer the disease, Jill's parents saw the financial and emotional toll that the disease