Tom Hanchette and Dr. Behnam Badie with images of Bridget Hanchette

Finding a way forward

Tom Hanchette wants to make the journey better for other people.

When a loved one dies of cancer, comfort can feel miles away. Tom Hanchette and his wife, Bridget, began their cancer journey in 2009 when Bridget learned she had glioblastoma, an aggressive type of brain tumor with low long-term survival rates. With the help of City of Hope®, Bridget lived for nearly 14 years after her diagnosis.

Today, Tom's journey continues.

"I want answers, and I want to help find answers so other families don't go through what we went through," says Tom. "There is that temptation to just wall off this experience and leave it behind. But I've learned life is messy, you know? I've learned the hard way that you can't just wall things off. I want to be part of figuring it out and making the journey better for other people."

A glimmer of hope

Bridget first learned of her brain tumor when she sought care for terrible migraines. After a visit to the emergency room, a biopsy confirmed she had glioblastoma. For many people, the words "You have a brain tumor" would have prompted bitterness and anger. But for Bridget, the experience was part of her life's story, not a war with winners and losers.

Bridget and Tom searched for a doctor who could offer the advanced care Bridget needed. They consulted doctors at two major health systems, only to be told nothing could be done. Then a family friend who is a doctor referred them to his colleague, Behnam Badie, M.D., at City of Hope, and that changed everything. 

"We walked into the house after an unsuccessful trip [to a major medical center], and the phone rang. It was Dr. Badie saying, 'I think it's operable. I need you here next week,'" says Tom. 

"The Hanchettes wanted to be as aggressive as possible, so we offered them participation in a clinical trial in addition to surgery to remove the tumor," says Badie. Bridget moved into one of City of Hope's Hope Village cottages to begin treatment. 

During surgery, Badie completely removed Bridget's tumor while avoiding critical structures in the brain, which preserved her ability to move and communicate. She also had chemotherapy and radiation therapy. As part of the trial, she was given a virus designed to kill cancer cells without harming normal brain tissues. 

"That's a miracle I never want to forget," Bridget wrote on her blog. "I am extremely blessed to be doing so well."

Creating a tradition of giving 

After Bridget returned home, she and Tom wanted to show their appreciation for the care Bridget received at City of Hope. They started a tradition that Tom continues today.

First, they donated funds to purchase equipment Badie's team needed to process brain tissues.

"The Hanchettes' donation was used to purchase an important instrument for the lab," Badie says, "The data generated with this machine helped us secure additional funding to continue our research in finding better treatments for malignant brain tumors."

The family donated more funds at Bridget's five-year mark and again when Bridget hit her 10th cancer-free anniversary. Giving to City of Hope helped the Hanchettes process their own experience while improving care for others in similar situations, according to Tom.

Then, in 2021, 12 years after her diagnosis, Bridget fell while getting out of bed. Tests showed her cancer was back. Bridget returned to City of Hope and participated in a second clinical trial. 

"It was hard. Everything went so smoothly before. This time was different," says Tom.

Moving forward, looking for answers

Bridget passed away February 8, 2023. Living as a brain cancer survivor for more than a decade, Bridget considered herself lucky, Tom says.

Although Bridget's journey with cancer has ended, Tom and their three children know the search for answers continues for families everywhere. The family pledged to match up to $125,000 in contributions made to City of Hope in Bridget's honor. Their efforts have been successful, and Tom recently visited the Duarte campus to present a check to the research team led by Badie.

"I got energized after being at City of Hope," says Tom. "I realized I have some real relationships and friendships there. Knowing the funds are going to Dr. Badie's research group is so rewarding."

"That visit really sparked something in me," he adds. "Before I went, I felt that we lost. But being surrounded by all these people who cared about me and my family made me realize we didn't lose. In the bigger picture, I felt I still wanted to be part of the effort and not give in because she's gone."

Tom now serves on the advisory board for City of Hope's Patient, Partners & Providers Working Together program, a unique program designed to help people with brain tumors and their loved ones cope with their many challenges.

Giving the gift of hope

For Tom, remaining involved with City of Hope is a way to honor Bridget's memory and keep her alive in his heart.

"We are so thankful to Dr. Badie and City of Hope for the nearly 14 years of life Bridget had just being Bridget, spreading joy everywhere she went," says Tom. "We are especially grateful for her to have our young kids grow into adulthood, something that typically would not have been possible given the typical outcomes of this cancer. How do I adequately thank City of Hope for the time they gave us?"

Dr. Badie says that the gift of hope goes both ways. 

"Stories like Bridget's not only motivate and bring hope to patients who are diagnosed with this type of tumor, they also give hope to doctors," he says. "I share these stories with my team to motivate them and tell them that what we're doing is really important. It's not just doing an experiment, publishing a paper or getting grant money. It's about changing lives."

Contribute in memory of Bridget Hanchette. Your support helps fund the effort Behnam Badie, M.D., and research at City of Hope.