“There’s no way I can fully convey to you what it’s like to have your life saved. What it’s like to feel like you believe you’re going to die. I believed I was going to die. I went home and had to tell my family that. And it’s hard to even blink. When you have walked around for the first 44 years on this earth with the glass half full pretty much all the time, and your clock stops, where do you go? I went to OHSU, and my life’s been given back to me.”
When Rob beat cancer, he credited the hospital, research, and physician. He wanted to express his gratitude, but felt that any attempt would fall short compared to the immense emotion he felt in having his life given back to him. He decided he wanted to carry forward the research that saved his life.
Where could he start? Rob sought out his physician. “I said, ‘I can’t possibly give you back what you’ve handed me, which is the keys to my life. But in some small way, I want to get involved. I don’t have any certain set of skills that I can think of other than being a living, breathing, example of this amazing research.’ So he introduced me to his development staff.”
At the time the development team was engaged in an initiative to build a new lab and expand research. Rob was immediately excited that there was something tangible to aim for. He wanted to be involved.
“I really want people to understand out there in our community and beyond, that lives are being saved here,” Rob explains. “There are more and more of them every year. It’s critical to get the financial support to continue this incredible momentum so that people like me who are walking around that don’t know they have cancer can get a diagnosis and have the hope and the keys to their life given back to them.”
The hospital regularly hosted luncheons called “Discovery Lunches” at which a doctor would speak to 12 or 15 interested people from the community. Rob was provided the opportunity during those luncheons to share his perspective as a patient. Though Rob didn’t initially think of himself as a great public speaker, his participation was a good fit: “I just sort of got into the role. I think my passion came through, and my personal experience started to really kind of shine through in this.” He gradually became involved with more meetings, public appearances, and speaking engagements.
OHSU picked up momentum with its fundraising initiative, and within a year and a half had raised $10 million for a new lab in a new building on campus. Rob has partnered with his physician at events to drive the mission of curing cancer.
Rob has now spoken at more than 150 public events throughout the country. He advocates for philanthropic support of research, and shares insights for living a productive life with cancer.
When asked why he would continue to commit such a tremendous amount of time and energy, Rob explains, “I will never forget what it was like to get that phone call and hear that I had cancer. I don’t want to forget. That might sound strange, but I want to keep it just under the surface and understand where I was and where I am.”
Rob’s journey did not end when he defeated cancer. It did not end on the day he went to the hospital and thanked his doctor, or with his philanthropic contributions. Through the gratifying experience of sharing his story, advancing research, and raising awareness, he was given the opportunity to bring something incredibly powerful out of a very difficult time. The development team helped him to continue his journey of healing.