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A million dreams for breast cancer at Vera Bradley event

Vera Bradley donation

Dean Jay Hess and researchers from IU School of Medicine join representatives from the Vera Bradley Foundation on stage for a check presentation

The Vera Bradley Foundation for Breast Cancer continued its two decades of support for Indiana University School of Medicine’s breast cancer research program with a donation of more than $1 million at its annual charity golf outing on June 3.

The foundation—the charitable arm of the Fort Wayne-based handbag and accessory maker—has donated more than $32.5 million to IU School of Medicine toward a total commitment of $37.5 million.

In recognition of that generosity, the school established the Vera Bradley Foundation Center for Breast Cancer Research at IU School of Medicine in 2018.

“Today, I’m here to tell you that we are barreling ahead,” IU School of Medicine Dean Jay L. Hess, MD, PhD, MHSA, told a crowd of several hundred people at the Vera Bradley Foundation for Breast Cancer Classic. “Over the past year, we’ve focused tremendous time and energy on one of the most aggressive types of breast cancer: triple negative breast cancer. And we are making terrific progress.”

Research makes possible ‘life’s simple pleasures’

The theme for the evening was “A Million Dreams,” based on the song from the popular movie “The Greatest Showman.” Hess, who sings in his church choir, delighted and surprised guests by joining Fort Wayne-area vocalist Rachel Smith onstage to sing the final lines of the song: “A million dreams is all it’s gonna take/ A million dreams for the world we’re gonna make.”

He then shared the story of Jackie Stephens, a patient with triple negative breast cancer who travels from South Bend to Indianapolis every week to participate in a clinical research study led by Kathy Miller, MD, and based on the research of Milan Radovich, PhD. Hess visited with Stephens in the hospital in May as she received chemotherapy.

He said support from the Vera Bradley Foundation is helping Stephens realize her dreams.

Thanks to the study, Stephens can visit with her granddaughter, spend time tending to her garden, and continue her near-daily visits to a nursing home for retired priests. “You see, Jackie doesn’t have a bucket list or some grand adventure she wants to go on,” Hess said. “She just wants to get up each day, enjoy life’s simple pleasures, and have more time with her family.”

“I can’t promise what the future holds for Jackie—or for any patient—but I can promise that we don’t give up,” said Hess, who lost his own mother to breast cancer when he was in college. “We will be relentless in our pursuit of a cure. And we will get there. There will be a day when breast cancer no longer instills fear the way it did for my mother, or Jackie, or countless others like them.”

The views expressed in this content represent the perspective and opinions of the author and may or may not represent the position of Indiana University School of Medicine.

Karen Spataro

Director of Strategic Communications

Karen Spataro served as director of the Indiana University School of Medicine Office of Strategic Communications from 2018-2020. She is now the Chief Communications Officer at Riley Children's Foundation.