A deadly disease like cancer can be crippling to many of the people affected by it - but Gundersen's BioBank Initiative is offering cancer patients the opportunity to fight back for someone else.
The initiative is home to the tissue and blood samples of more than 6,000 cancer patients, from 21 sites on the human body - the only one of that breadth in the upper Midwest, according to researchers. The samples have been donated from past and present patients of Gundersen, who are hoping to make a change for someone's future.
"They can feel like their cancer is allowing them to help other people down the road," said Steven Cash, one of the initiative's researchers.
Judie Abraham is one such patient who has donated her tissue. She was diagnosed with breast cancer last fall, and underwent surgery just after Christmas. The first thing that went through her mind was her family.
"I have a daughter, the middle one; she just cried and cried and cried. ’Mom, you've been through hell. Why do you have to go through this?' And it's hard to try and explain that to them."
Abrahams was approached by Gundersen to donate to the BioBank, and she didn't hesitate.
"I said, 'Why not?' I have nothing to lose," Abrahams said. "By using my cancer cells, they could find a cure for this cancer, and other cancers."
The BioBank was established in 2008 and has seen significant progress, thanks to donations by patients like Abrahams. According to Cash, researchers from the initiative have published to peer review papers. In one study, they were able to reduce a cancer tumor by 70 percent.
"People in La Crosse are seeing some of the effects, because we're actually making some discoveries," Cash said.
Cash adds there are many stories like Abraham's - cancer patients, or their families, often make donations to the BioBank with hope for the future. For Abraham, that hope lies with the next generation.
"My main concerns were my daughters," she said. "They're my main concern. If there's a cure, and they ever get breast cancer, I want them to be cured."
To get involved with the BioBank, take or tour or find more information, visit gundluth.org/BioBank.