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Peter Argenta, M.D., and Jeanne McGahee.

Peter Argenta, M.D., and Jeanne McGahee.

Determined to make a difference

A cancer survivor thanks her doctor with gifts to support his work in ovarian cancer

Jeanne McGahee has always used her talents to help others.

She began her career as a program director at the YWCA and worked for the organization in three different states over 17 years. After earning a master’s degree in social work in Colorado in 1966, McGahee was a social worker in the Minneapolis public schools system for 22 years. In her free time, she was an avid traveler. “I went around the world visiting many countries. I have enjoyed freighter trips as well. It was marvelous,” McGahee says.

In May 2005, her positive outlook was tested when she was diagnosed with advanced ovarian cancer. McGahee had surgery that month and then again two years later, when the cancer returned.

She asked her doctor, University of Minnesota gynecologic oncologist Peter Argenta, M.D., how she could still be going strong at age 82, after two major operations and three years of chemotherapy. “Dr. Argenta said that part of it is my outlook on life. I just haven’t gotten depressed,” McGahee says. “One of my best friends describes me as stubborn. I like the word determined.”

Since McGahee was diagnosed with cancer, her spirit of determination and optimism has inspired her to help others in a new way, and an unexpected inheritance has helped to make that possible.

Upon receiving an unexpected inheritance from a friend in 2007, McGahee chose to use the funds to help others by making two donations—an estate gift and annual gifts that can be used right away—to fund Argenta’s research on the treatment, management, and prevention of ovarian cancer.

These gifts established the Jeanne McGahee Fund for Ovarian Cancer Research to support Argenta’s ovarian cancer work, and McGahee hopes that the fund will lead to improved treatment and prevention measures for other women who have ovarian cancer.

Her outright gift has helped pay for researchers to work with Argenta on a promising, targeted therapy for ovarian cancer that has minimal side effects, particularly compared with current treatments. Argenta is also using McGahee’s gift to improve the delivery of ovarian cancer therapies through the arm and abdomen, which will improve the treatment’s effectiveness.

“My care here gave me five years I didn’t think I’d have,” she says. McGahee’s great hope is that the fund will help many others receive the gift of more time. “I feel I’ve been blessed,” she says. “If you are given a gift, then you need to give something back. I want to give right here.”

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