Joanne Mortimer, M.D., is the first beneficiary of the new Baum Family Professorship in Women’s Cancers, which will be used to advance research, education and clinical activities in support of breast cancer treatment.
For those fighting cancer, the most meaningful gifts tend to be the simplest ones.
When Lauren Baum Nollette was suddenly thrust into a battle with breast cancer in 2008 at just 28 years old, she found much needed stability in the simple fact that her father, Jim Baum, made sure he was present for all her consultations, hospital stays and surgeries.
“He never wanted me to feel alone and scared,” said Lauren, now 37. “I can't tell you how much that meant to me. He has always made sure that I know he's always by my side, through thick and thin. And although he isn't a big mushy talker, his actions spoke much, much louder than any words ever could.”
Now eight years on, Jim has just taken an action that speaks volumes about his gratitude to City of Hope and his commitment to advancing medical care. A new financial gift - the latest of many Jim has made - establishes an endowed professorship within the hospital’s breast cancer program, and its first recipient is oncologist Joanne Mortimer, M.D., the physician Lauren credits most for her successful outcome.
When Lauren found a lump in her breast in May 2008 that turned out to be cancer, a family friend who’s a surgeon strongly suggested that she seek help at City of Hope. Mortimer, the director of the Women’s Cancers Program, and surgeon I. Benjamin Paz, M.D., spearheaded Lauren’s treatment, which first involved a lumpectomy. And of course Jim was ever present to show support for his daughter.
“I remember being super uncomfortable after my lumpectomy,” said Lauren. “It was an unplanned overnight stay. Going into surgery, my dad was the last face I saw. Waking up, my dad was the first face I saw. And every hour I would wake up in pain in the hospital room over the next 24 hours, there my dad was, sitting uncomfortably in an upright chair in my room by my bed.”
Five months of chemotherapy followed, during which Lauren’s other secret weapon - her mother, Judy Baum, herself a breast cancer survivor after a mastectomy 11 years before - provided vital perspective. “She gave me a gift I know she had no idea at the time that she was giving me,” said Lauren. “She gave me the gift of hope. Seeing her healthy and thriving made me realize life goes on after all this. This was hopefully just a little ‘blip’ on the screen of life.”
When Lauren was confronted with further difficult decisions about treatment, Mortimer was instrumental in providing an empathetic ear and guiding her through severe anxiety. “She was able to calm me down and make me realize that everything was going to be OK - that I was going to survive,” said Lauren. “Dr. Mortimer had the ability to see that it wasn't just the cancer they were treating. They also had to make sure that I was able to keep living happily.”
With Mortimer’s thoughtful counsel in mind, as well as her mother’s past experience with the disease and her own need to be free of the perpetual fear of recurrence, Lauren ultimately opted for a preventative double mastectomy, a decision she said she has “never regretted.” Surgeon James S. Andersen, M.D., the chief of the Division of Plastic Surgery, then performed breast reconstruction.
In a disheartening turn of events, not long after City of Hope doctors gave Lauren the “all clear” in 2011, her father was suddenly confronted with his own major health challenge. A lump in Jim’s chest was quickly diagnosed as an extremely rare sarcoma in the pectoral muscle.
At the time, Lauren was in the process of planning a wedding to Marine Corps pilot Major Jason Nollette, but she made sure to care for her dad the way he had cared for her. City of Hope’s Dominic Femino, M.D., chief of the Division of Orthopaedic Surgery, performed surgery on Jim, who then received radiotherapy. (Jim faced a local recurrence two years later but has had good scans ever since.)
A former military and airline pilot and aeronautical engineer, Jim is now an entrepreneur who invests in biomedical innovations and devices that he hopes will advance medical technologies and biomedical engineering. He also heads the board of councilors for the USC Viterbi School of Engineering.
After receiving such successful care, Jim was inspired to begin making sizable donations to City of Hope to honor the doctors, nurses and other health care professionals responsible for his and Lauren’s positive outcomes.
Mortimer, a professor in the Department of Medical Oncology & Therapeutics Research at City of Hope, became so close with the Baums during Lauren’s struggle that she was invited to attend Lauren’s wedding. Because of her devotion to Lauren’s care, Jim chose Mortimer as the first beneficiary of the new Baum Family Professorship in Women’s Cancers, which will be used to advance research, education and clinical activities in support of breast cancer treatment.
The new professorship is only the latest in a series of endowments Jim has made to the hospital totaling nearly $3 million, including a generous gift to his thoracic surgeon, Dan J. Raz, M.D., M.A.S.
Lauren now lives in Carlsbad, California, and works as a senior product manager for a spine technology company. She remains healthy and is now pregnant a second time, with a boy due in November.
While her father has supported the City of Hope mission with his financial gifts, Lauren has honored the hospital in her own way. When she and Jason welcomed their daughter Jillian to the world in the summer of 2015, they endowed her with a middle name that has special meaning for the entire Baum family: Hope.
Plastic surgeon Mark C. Tan, M.D., employs a pair of innovative microsurgeries that are showing great results in treating the symptoms of lymphedema, a common complication following breast (and other) cancer surgery.