Couple’s Gift Creates Enduring Legacy

Meryl and Ed Townes

As I recovered from my surgery at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (MSK) as a teenager in 1963, my favorite part of each day was when my doctor would bring his handsome young residents—recent medical school graduates—into my room for daily rounds.

I loved those moments—I even asked my mom to bring my mascara and lipstick so I could be ready for them when they came in!

The complex operation to remove the tumor in my leg was a success, but I had come a long way to get to that point. Months earlier, I started feeling pain in my right leg. When it got worse, my mother took me to an orthopedist in New Jersey, who diagnosed me with cancer. The only way to save me, he said, was to amputate my leg.

I was devastated. But my mom was a formidable woman who would not accept such a painful compromise so easily! She took me to meet with three more orthopedists in New Jersey, and when they all also said that, based on the x-rays, amputation was the only option, my mother insisted on a referral to MSK.

At MSK, we met with Dr. Kenneth Coulter Francis. He was the “buck stops here” guy. If he couldn't help you, nobody could.

The late Dr. Francis was the first physician who insisted on a biopsy and ultimately diagnosed me with an extremely rare condition: giant-cell tumor of the bone. He told me, “I've only heard of three cases of this—and I'm treating two of them now" The tumor was benign. I did not have cancer.

Still, it would require a complicated and daring operation to remove the tumor and spare my leg. Dr. Francis believed he could do it. He gave my mother and me hope. In the end, through an experimental procedure that involved removing the tumor and inserting a metal rod in my leg, Dr. Francis was able to save my leg and my future quality of life.

It was a long recovery to get back on my feet, but in time I was walking. And before long, I graduated from college with a degree in Medical Technology. A few years later, I made a trip to Las Vegas to visit my cousin. Everything was so new and different to me, and I made the adventurous decision to move there. That's where I met Ed, my now-husband of 48 years, and Las Vegas is still our home.

 

Meryl Townes

 

People always say Ed and I balance each other out perfectly. I'm chatty and outgoing, and Ed is pensive and quiet. And although Ed isn't one to talk much about his feelings, he has found a profound and meaningful way to show them.

Ed had been making small gifts in my honor to MSK for more than two decades, but I had had no idea until it came time to sort out our estate plans. That was when Ed suggested that we include MSK in our will. For Ed, a bequest was a way to show his gratitude to MSK for making my life as it is today possible—and a way for his love for me to be part of an enduring legacy.

I was so touched by his idea, and agreed right away that we should both include MSK in our wills. I saw a planned gift as a way to give back to the hospital and help others at the same time. MSK was there to save me, so I will be there for MSK. After all, without people like us, this kind of groundbreaking research and care could not happen. There wouldn't be lifesaving procedures for future generations—or for us!

Today, when we're not traveling the world together, Ed and I are learning how to make wine and attending the theater or the ballet. Ed's gardening skills have turned our yard into a miniature farm. I take courses on photography and bread-making.

It's been many years since I was a terrified teenager facing a rare diagnosis, when I was told my leg could not be saved. Even after all this time, I still remember Dr. Francis and the great treatment I received at MSK—and so does Ed. And now, Ed and I can be remembered, too, through our bequest to MSK. It's a tangible expression of our love that will help people for many years to come.


To learn how you can make a meaningful gift to impact MSK patients for years to come, contact the Office of Planned Giving at plannedgiving@mskcc.org or 800-688-1827.

 

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