Family and Friends of Sophia Sukys Walsh

When family and friends think of Sophia Sukys Walsh, they often remember her love of dancing, especially Lithuanian folk dancing. “She never missed an opportunity to dance; she was so full of life,” recalled her daughter, Julia Walsh Wegner.

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Diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2001, Ms. Walsh underwent treatment at Loyola University Health System (Loyola). “Physicians gave her only a 20 percent chance of living five years, but she survived five years, two months and three weeks,” said Mrs. Wegner. “She put a tremendous amount of faith in the Lord and her doctors, and she always remained hopeful and positive.”

In remembrance of Ms. Walsh’s zest for life, Mrs. Wegner and her husband, Ken, established the Sophia Sukys Walsh Endowment Fund, which has grown to more than $110,000 thanks to gifts from family and friends. Income from the endowment fund is used for research investigating the causes of ovarian cancer as well as new treatments.

The Wegners met with Ronald Potkul, MD, Professor, Department of OB/GYN and director, Division of Gynecological Oncology, Loyola, to learn about his research in ovarian cancer. Dr. Potkul and other Loyola cancer researchers are investigating whether women’s own immune systems can be triggered to prevent cancer cells from returning after chemotherapy.

Basically, the problem people have with cancers is that the cancer cells learn to hide from immune systems and even break them down,” Dr. Potkul explained. “Ovarian cancer is an especially frustrating cancer because there are almost always a few cancer cells that lie dormant after treatment, but then build back up.”

Loyola researchers are investigating a medication that they believe will prevent the immune system from breaking down. They also are creating vaccines from patients’ cancerous tumors to be given postchemotherapy to help the body fight off any remaining cancer cells. A clinical trial studying these vaccines has just begun.

Mrs. Wegner has a special interest in Dr. Potkul’s research. “My mother responded well to chemotherapy, but one tough little cancer cell remained and began to grow,” she said. “We’re hoping that the endowment will enable women diagnosed with ovarian cancer to dance a little longer than my mom.”

Although the Wegners initially started the fund, other family members and friends have made contributions. Last Christmas, Chuck Walsh, Mrs. Wegner’s father, made a gift in his four grandchildren’s names. One of the grandchildren, Spencer Wegner, requested that guests to his 13th birthday party make donations to the fund instead of giving him presents. He raised $1,580 from his friends and classmates.

“Please make sure this money goes to cancer research in honor of my grandma, and think of my grandma today. She is a hero who never stopped fighting,” Spencer wrote in a letter that accompanied his donation. “I pray for you all every day to come closer to finding a cure for cancer.”

“It was a wonderful party. The kids had fun while learning a valuable lesson about giving,” Mrs. Wegner said. “Today, so many families have all the material goods they need. A gift to a fund honoring a loved one is much more meaningful than another toy or game.”

The Wegners are pleased to receive donations to the fund for all gift-giving occasions,“It’s my new favorite gift; I can’t think of anything else I’d rather receive.” Mrs. Wegner said.

For more information on setting up a tribute fund to support oncology research or other causes at Loyola, contact the Office of Development at (708) 216-3201 or development@lumc.edu.

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Tribute Fund is a Family Affair