Donor support funds melanoma breakthrough

March 12, 2013 | Melissa Stamm

James (“Jimmy”) and Lillian (“Tooty”) Bradford had taken a ski trip to Switzerland every year since 1985.

But in February 2010, Jimmy had been battling melanoma for over a year – and the Bradfords received some bad news that could have derailed the trip.

“Jimmy found out he had a terrible scan on Feb. 2, and on Feb. 3, we were supposed to go on this ski trip,” recalled Tooty. “His only question to Dr. Sosman was ‘Can I just go on my trip, I feel fine?’”

Jimmy’s oncologist Jeffrey Sosman, M.D., Ingram Professor of Cancer Research, told him to go ahead. But he did offer Tooty a word of caution.

“Dr. Sosman told me that he would begin to have symptoms, and he did have some pains while we were there for 10 days. But he had a good trip, all told, and we got back home all right.”

Jimmy passed away about a month after the ski trip, on March 8, 2010. But his legacy lives on through a financial gift the family made to fund a discovery grant in melanoma research at Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center.

The support of Sosman, along with the rest of Jimmy’s medical team – including surgeon James Netterville, M.D., and oncologist William Pao, M.D., Ph.D. – were major factors in the Bradfords’ decision to support discovery research.

Because of their guidance, medical expertise and emotional support, “You just felt like they were really going to bat for you,” Tooty said.

The Bradford’s discovery grant actually funded the sequencing of Jimmy’s tumor, which led to the discovery of a new melanoma mutation and the identification of a promising new therapy (see main story).

The research was recently featured on the front cover of the journal Cancer Discovery that published the findings, with an artistic representation of the genetic sequence of his tumor.

“Jimmy’s finally on the front cover,” Tooty said, cheerfully. “It’s better than being a centerfold!”

“It’s wonderful that they have taken this money and gone on to really break it down and find out more detail (about these melanoma mutations)… and that they are having some success, getting the findings to the clinic.”
Tooty acknowledges that there’s still much to learn about melanoma – and cancer, in general – and that it won’t likely be learned in her lifetime. But with the support of individuals like the Bradfords, meaningful progress is being made.

The Bradford family recently established an endowed fund in Jimmy’s name to keep pressing forward against this disease. Endowments created by our philanthropic partners have a critical role in funding our innovative edge in research, medical education and cancer care.

James C. Bradford, Jr. Endowed Fund in Melanoma Research will provide a continuous source of support for investigators studying this cancer.

“Even if you can’t be helped personally,” Tooty said, “at least you can help someone else.”

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