Upstate News

June 7, 2006
Darryl Geddes 315 464-4828

Endowment fund for lung cancer research created in memory of non-smoker

SYRACUSE, N.Y. – SUNY Upstate Medical University plans to accelerate its research into lung cancer and its treatments with the establishment of an endowment fund named for a Binghamton man, a non-smoker who died of lung cancer at the age of 39. The Michael E. Connolly Lung Cancer Research Endowment is the only one of its kind at SUNY Upstate.

Michael Connolly died in August 2002 after a 22-month battle with lung cancer. Connolly was a star athlete in the Binghamton schools and was the epitome of good health. The fact that he would die of lung cancer before age 40 is something his wife would have never believed.

“We were completely floored and devastated by the diagnosis,” said Michael’s widow, Penny Connolly, a Binghamton High School teacher. “Who would believe that someone in the prime of life, who had always taken such care of his health, could die of lung cancer?”

When doctors diagnosed Michael Connolly with lung cancer it had metastasized to his bone and spread to his lymph nodes. Lung cancer diagnosis can often come late and that is especially true for a non-smoker. Lung cancer was the last thing doctors suspected when Michael developed a cough.

For the next 22 months, Michael Connolly fought a courageous battle with cancer and had nearly beaten the cancer thanks to a powerful drug he was receiving as part of a clinical trial. But as in nearly all cases of advanced lung cancer, the disease prevailed. Michael Connolly died Aug. 24, 2002.

“The impetus for creating this endowment in Michael’s name is to ensure that others faced with the same diagnosis have a better chance at winning the battle through advanced research and treatment,” said Penny Connolly. “Through his name and the grateful support of so many, I feel we can make significant gains in fighting cancer.”

Leslie Kohman, M.D., professor of surgery at SUNY Upstate and director of the thoracic oncology program at University Hospital and Michael’s physician at University Hospital, applauded the creation of the endowment that specifically funds lung cancer research.

“Lung cancer kills more people than any other cancer, yet it get less funding than other types of cancer research,” Kohman said. “An endowment of this kind is essential to leveling the playing field in cancer research. Without the necessary funding, progress in developing a better understanding of lung cancer and better treatments will be slow.

“This endowment is critical to the development and continuation of research into all areas of lung cancer, from its causes to its treatments, by providing funding so our experienced cancer researchers and others can turn their attention to lung cancer,” Kohman said. “This endowment also will enhance the interactions between clinical care and research to benefit of lung cancer patients.”

Cancer research at SUNY Upstate has been significant over the years. Recent advances have targeted prostate, head and neck, bone, brain, colon and pancreatic cancer.

“Our son, Ryan, and I have been blessed by the outpouring of support from the local community that has been touched by Michael’s life and his experience, and we thank all those who will join the fight against lung cancer in Michael’s name,” said Penny Connolly.

Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer-related deaths for both men and women. An estimated 173,770 new cases of lung cancer and an estimated 160,440 deaths from lung cancer will occur in the United States this year.
For more information on the Michael E. Connolly Endowment for Lung Cancer Research, call the Upstate Medical University Foundation at 315-464-4416.

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