Paying It Forward

Patient's Uplifting Experience Motivated Her to Make a Gift

Alice Fixx spent New Year's Eve 2009 at Memorial Sloan Kettering, recovering from surgery. "I expected it to be gloomy, and that was not my experience," she says. In the recreation area on the hospital's top floor, there was a lavish buffet of hot and cold hors d'oeuvres and cookies, and nurses passed around sparkling juice in lieu of Champagne. "Everyone wrote down a wish for the New Year, releasing them out the window. I was uplifted," Alice recalls. "Memorial Sloan Kettering restored my faith in medicine—and that night was symbolic of my entire experience. It reflected the institutional culture that pervades MSK—unique kindness, warmth, and caring."

The previous fall, Alice had been diagnosed with anal cancer, an extremely rare cancer. "I run my own public relations business and I'm a 'doing' person," she says. "When confronted with a difficult situation, I take action. I did thorough research and one name kept coming up again and again—Leonard Saltz." Dr. Saltz is Chief of MSK's Gastrointestinal Oncology Service and Head of the Colorectal Oncology Section.

Scans done after her diagnosis revealed that Alice was also in the earliest stages of an aggressive form of lung cancer. Unrelated to anal cancer, this malignancy often remains undetected until extremely advanced.

I have complete faith that the team at MSK will revolutionize how this disease is understood and treated.

—Alice Fixx

A multidisciplinary team, including Dr. Saltz and MSK Oncologist and Surgeon Larissa Temple united to create a plan. The lung cancer would be treated immediately, then chemotherapy and radiation would target the anal cancer. One cancer diagnosis effectively saved Alice's life from another.

Unfortunately, a recurrence of the anal cancer required extensive surgery to prevent further spread, and a new growth was discovered just months after that procedure on Alice's liver. Given the extent of her previous treatments, more surgery would be extremely complex—and chemotherapy, while taxing, was determined to be the best treatment option.

For Alice, a challenge again became a victory. Intestinal complications required emergency surgery. Dr. Temple arranged to have a MSK hepatobiliary surgeon remove the tumor in Alice's liver during the same procedure. "Even after a long and tiring day, Dr. Temple came to see me at 7 p.m. in the Urgent Care unit. She took my hands in hers and said, 'Alice, I know this is hard. But you're almost at the end, and I promise I will take you across the finish line.'"

In fall of 2013, Alice Fixx was declared cancer free. "MSK's clinicians are brilliant, but they are also extraordinary human beings," says Alice. "And it's not just the medical team. I would often ask the kind person making my bed, or the friendly assistant at the front desk, 'How long have you worked here?' Amazingly, the answer was often 15, 20, even 30 years—proof of how special MSK is."

In recognition of the care she received, Alice is making a gift through her estate to support anal cancer research. "I have complete faith that the team at MSK will revolutionize how this disease is understood and treated. I am grateful to be able to pay forward all the good they have done for me."

Memorial Sloan Kettering gratefully acknowledges her visionary commitment to the Center's future and recognizes her as a member of the Cullum Society.

Click here to read other inspiring stories of support.

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