A mother’s love is at the core of memorial fund supporting research in breast cancer
July 10, 2012 College News - Denise Leinss loved life, and when she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2001, she vowed to someday help other women reclaim theirs from the disease. She told her mom, Colleen, that after she beat cancer, she wanted to become an advocate and give talks encouraging breast cancer victims and survivors.
Sadly, she did not have that opportunity. Denise died Aug. 16, 2003, at age 42. But from the tragedy, Colleen Leinss and her husband, Jim, saw an opportunity to fulfill their only child’s wish in a different way. They found a willing partner in the Medical College of Wisconsin.
“We decided to make something positive out of something so terribly devastating, therefore, the establishing of the Denise M. Leinss Breast Cancer Research Fund,” she said. “We chose the Medical College as we feel the people are so dedicated and passionate. The Medical College does care about people and will continue to strive for a cure.”
In truth, Colleen Leinss never imagined becoming a fund-raiser, but through adversity, she found success in this role. To date, the Denise M. Leinss Breast Cancer Research Fund has raised more than $238,000, primarily through its “Beat Breast Cancer” Golf Outing.
The efforts have had a meaningful impact on cancer research at the Medical College. Most recently, Qing (Robert) Miao, PhD, Assistant Professor of Surgery, successfully competed for a $1.9 million grant from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute to study a new mechanism of unwanted blood vessel growth, a hallmark in cancer. The grant was the direct result of seed funding Dr. Miao received from the Denise M. Leinss Breast Cancer Research Fund and the American Cancer Society.
Lived life with passion
The Fund is a fitting tribute to a woman who always wore a smile and never felt sorry for herself. Yet nearly nine years after Denise’s passing, the family’s loss is still palpable. Colleen fondly remembers a daughter who was compassionate, classy, generous, outgoing and positive. “People who met her, remembered her, and the ones who knew her, loved her,” she said.
Denise was a senior account executive at Norlight Telecommunications and a resident of Whitefish Bay. She enjoyed travel, shopping, parties, reading and most of all, spending time with friends and family. She and her mom were very close, and her breast cancer diagnosis resounded in them both.
“As a mother, I wished it had been my diagnosis,” Colleen said. “When you hear the words ‘I’m sorry, you have breast cancer,’ time stands still for about 10 seconds. Your brain is trying to absorb this and you scream inside, ‘no, no, no!’ We held each other, cried, wiped away the tears, went to a restaurant for lunch and a glass of wine, and faced the monster that had invaded Denise’s body.”
So that others may be saved
Colleen remains committed to fighting that monster, even if it is now for the sake of others’ daughters.
“Jim and I are so sad that Denise had to leave us so early in life, and I believe it was for a reason, and that is to help find a cure for this insidious disease,” she said. “No parent should bury their child, and it is happening more as breast cancer is being diagnosed too frequently in young women. Breast cancer steals too many of our loved ones from us and, unfortunately, will touch everyone’s life. That is why we established the Denise M. Leinss Breast Cancer Research Fund.”
The fund will continue to grow, even as Colleen moves into more of a consulting role with the annual “Beat Breast Cancer” Golf Outing, now in its seventh year. Her close friends are managing the event, which will be held this year on Aug. 18. Additionally, she and Jim have become Legacy Society members at the Medical College by pledging the majority of their estate to their daughter’s fund.
Denise’s legacy, meanwhile, might be best captured in a collage that her co-workers created and framed for display at her memorial. It now hangs in Colleen’s home.
“The heading on the collage,” she said, “is a quote: ‘Some people come into our lives and quickly go. Some stay for a while, leave footprints on our hearts, and we are never, ever the same.’ That says it all.”
Denise Leinss, for whom the Denise M. Leinss Breast Cancer Research Fund is named.