$1.25 million question

John and Peggy Garson

Grant from family foundation supports genetic cancer research at CWRU

Ten years ago, John and Peggy Garson received the biggest shock of their lives when John was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

“It’s one of those moments when you can either back away,” said John Garson, “or turn your life over to someone else and trust them to take care of you.”

That someone became Stanton L. Gerson, MD, an internationally renowned clinician and researcher who at the time also led the Case Comprehensive Cancer Center, a federally designated consortium including Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland Clinic and University Hospitals.

The doctor and patient quickly developed a friendship that grew over the years, with the two bonding over shared interests in cycling, golf—and genetic cancer research.

Garson was not the first in his family to be diagnosed with cancer. His grandmother, both parents, sister and nephew all have battled forms of the disease, and, in 2019, Garson’s son Scott was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.

Scott’s diagnosis caused Garson to ask his trusted friend and physician, “What’s going on here?” 

That question became the basis for two grants totaling $1.25 million from the Peggy and John Garson Family Foundation to establish the Family Cancer Genetic Discovery Research Program at the Case Comprehensive Cancer Center.

Dean Gerson
Stan Gerson, MD

“The generosity of the Garson family changes our approach to this vital area of research and improves how we care for families with cancer,” said Gerson, who became dean of the School of Medicine and Senior Vice President for Medical Affairs in 2021. “We are now on the horizon of discovering genetic trends and differences that will help thousands of families worldwide.”

Garson’s family was the first of three enrolled in the program’s pilot phase to be tested for the BRCA gene mutation—a variant that puts the bearer at an increased risk of developing certain cancers. Garson, his nephew, his son Scott and his granddaughter all tested positive. This knowledge is particularly useful for Garson’s granddaughter. She has not developed cancer, but the information allows her to be proactive about screenings and family planning.

“Now as a young woman, she’s having mammograms and can think about freezing her eggs,” Peggy Garson said of their granddaughter. “Had she never found out about [the gene mutation], she may not have thought about these options until it was too late.”

The Garsons, who will celebrate their 65th wedding anniversary in September, appreciate the opportunity to protect their own family while making a difference for others.

“We feel very lucky to be able to have an impact in this area,” said John Garson. “This research has the potential to reduce pain and suffering for many families and hopefully, save a lot of lives.”