Lifesaving treatment leads to life-changing gift

During their 46-year marriage – an attraction begun as kindergarten sweethearts – entrepreneurs Emmet and Toni Stephenson have worked together to build diverse businesses ranging from portfolio management to Internet publishing. When Toni was diagnosed with T cell lymphoma last spring, the couple refocused their energies into restoring her health.

“Cancer became the center of our life,” Emmet said. “Our priorities really got changed and turned upside down almost instantly.”

“We had investigated different hospitals, and concluded this was the best cancer treatment hospital in the country,” Emmet said. The couple based their selection on the recommendation of a close friend (a retired oncologist), the fact that City of Hope focuses on cancer, and the institution's enormous staff of world-class oncologists. “It’s extraordinary how fast they move in terms of diagnosis and treatment,” said Emmet, who also was impressed that senior doctors visit hospitalized patients on the weekends.

Toni is currently in remission following treatment at City of Hope, and the couple and their only child, Tessa Stephenson Brand, recently gave City of Hope $10 million to create the Toni Stephenson Lymphoma Center. That center is the cornerstone of City of Hope's new Hematologic Malignancies Institute.

“We’d like for our gift to simply add to the prestige and capability that City of Hope already has, focus attention on something it already does well and enable it to bring in more experts.”

“The goal is to accelerate the rate of gain in knowledge and rapidity of research in order to get on top of this and beat it sooner rather than later,” said Emmet.

The Stephensons’ next generation –Tessa – recalls that her parents always gave generously to charities. “What’s different about my parents is that they don’t just write a check. They learn about the organization, where that money goes and how they can help to fund raise.”

“They gave me a small amount of money each year and I got to choose three charities,” Tessa recalled of her childhood philanthropy. “I would usually do the ones they would do. We started giving money to Alzheimer’s after my grandfather passed away."

She added: "I started to see that once certain things happen in your life, you tend to want to give to that, so obviously, cancer will become the first priority I think in all charitable contributions in the future.”