December 23, 2010
When you meet Paul Nelson, you know instantly that you are in the company of a good person. He has a quality about him that is at once caring, inspiring and positive. His personality pours out as he speaks of the two very special people in his life that he lost to cancer.
Paul’s youngest son, Mark, died in 2003 at 30 from complications from Hodgkin lymphoma, a cancer originating in lymph nodes, which are part of the immune system. Earlier this year, he lost his wife Donna to spindle cell sarcoma, a rare connective tissue cancer.
“Everyone tells me they remember Mark most by his warm smile,” says Paul. “He was a smiler—just like his mother.”
While he misses his smile too, it is Mark’s support of the community that Paul remembers the most. Many nights after work, Mark volunteered his time to help parents coach their children’s soccer teams. Mark did not have kids of his own, but loved soccer and was great with children. But Mark’s dedication to serving his community did not end there. In honor of his grandfather and cousin who both successfully battled cancer, Mark participated in events to fundraise for and raise awareness about cancer in his hometown of Perryville, Mo.
“When Mark died, Donna and I wanted to provide opportunities for ourselves and other people to give to cancer research like Mark did,” says Paul. “Can you imagine the new treatments that could be available if all 325 million people in the United States would give $10 yearly to support cancer research? It would be wonderful.”
In memory of Mark’s spirit and dedication to others, Paul and Donna started the Mark Alan Nelson Cancer Research Fund at the Barnes-Jewish Hospital Foundation. To inspire their family and friends to support the fund, they created business cards explaining that 100 percent of dollars given to Mark’s fund go to lymphoma and leukemia research at the Alvin J. Siteman Cancer Center, where Mark received his care.
When Donna died earlier this year, Paul requested that family and friends give in Donna’s honor to the fund that she had helped establish in honor of their son, Mark. The support of loved ones totaled $10,825.
Paul also made a gift in Donna’s honor to support the research of Washington University oncologist Matthew Ellis, MD, who cared for her at Siteman (Dr. Ellis receives funding from the Barnes-Jewish Hospital Foundation as the Anheuser-Busch Endowed Chair in Medical Oncology).
“When Donna was diagnosed, she immediately signed up as a cancer research participant,” says Paul. “She truly wanted to be sure that others did not have to deal with what our family has gone through. That’s why it’s so important to keep giving to Mark’s research fund. Donna was a giver just like Mark, and it was a blessing to see so many family and friends give to Mark’s fund in honor of Donna this year.”
This summer, Donna Nelson treasured many days she spent with her oldest grandson, Ryan, while she was going through cancer treatment. On many of his visits, Ryan would often bring with him art that he made for her. To see Ryan’s gallery of art for his grandma, please go to: www.GivingBarnesJewish.org/RyansArt