October 11, 2011
Patty Jennings : A Legacy of Hope
On Valentine’s Day, 2009, the state of New Mexico and the UNM Cancer Center lost a longtime friend and patient advocate. Patty Jennings, wife of state Senate President Pro Tem Tim Jennings, passed away after a long, hard fight with breast cancer. Patty was best known for her selfless hours of work for children with special needs and for ensuring that every New Mexican had access to health insurance and medical care.
Patty took on the additional role of advocating for breast cancer research after her own initial diagnosis of Inflammatory Breast Cancer (IBC) on Christmas Eve, 2004. IBC is a rare but deadly form of breast cancer, making up less than five percent of all breast cancer cases. IBC is characterized by the thickening of breast tissue, redness and burning, but not the identifiable lump associated with most other breast cancers.
Patty learned later that she had been misdiagnosed; instead of IBC, she had another type of high-risk breast cancer. But her ordeal strengthened her resolve to help the women whose lives are taken by IBC every year. During the 2007 state legislative session, she and Senator Jennings worked with lawmakers to unanimously pass a $3.2 million allocation for a joint IBC research project between the UNM Cancer Center and the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. Texas legislators followed suit with $4 million in matching funds.
“The UNM Cancer Center and, really, all people of New Mexico, are forever indebted to Patty Jennings,” said Dr. Cheryl Willman, director and CEO of the UNM Cancer Center. “She paved the way for incredible research advances against this complex cancer. Thanks to her devotion, the UNM Cancer Center is one of the few places in the nation conducting ground-breaking research on this terrible disease. We are so grateful for her immeasurable contribution to our work, for helping to facilitate our partnership with M.D. Anderson, and for being such a wonderful advocate for cancer patients. We have suffered a tremendous loss, and she will be truly missed.”
Patty’s vision remains a guiding light at the UNM Cancer Center in the work of her friend Dr. Melanie Royce. A breast cancer oncologist at the UNM Cancer Center and a Professor of Internal Medicine at the UNM School of Medicine, Dr. Royce has been recognized by the National Cancer Institute for her leadership in the field of clinical breast cancer research. Soon after Patty passed away, Royce was selected as one of only 11 physicians across the nation to receive the first of the prestigious NCI Clinical Investigator Team Leadership Awards, which were launched that same year. The goal of this award is to support and recognize exceptional clinical investigators whose work fosters successful clinical research programs at NCI Cancer Centers. Patty would be pleased.