On Tom and Nancy Jensen’s 48th wedding anniversary, they received the worst kind of news. Nancy had a rare, highly aggressive form of uterine cancer.
The Jensens found themselves at UW Medicine under the care of Barbara Norquist, M.D. ’04, Fel. ’12. Unfortunately, Norquist quickly discovered that Nancy didn’t have stage 2 cancer, as initially thought, but stage 4. She had only a very low chance of survival.
But the couple’s response to the terrible news was singular. Instead of slowing down, the couple took flight.
Tom and Nancy started visiting places they had always wanted to go — Bora Bora, Yosemite and Niagara Falls. And, as licensed pilots, they even flew themselves to Blakely Island and Southeast Oregon.
“Nancy enjoyed flying,” says Tom, noting that she was very active in the Ninety-Nines, an international organization of female pilots. “She met a lot of wonderful friends — women pilots from all over the world.”
Eleven months after her diagnosis, Nancy died, leaving a lasting impression on everyone she met, including Norquist.
“Nancy was inspiring,” says Norquist. “Whenever I saw her, she would show me pictures of her latest adventure. She really found a way to find some positivity in what she was going through.”
As an engineer, Tom likes finding solutions — a trait he has in common with medical researchers. So when he heard that Norquist was in a vulnerable place in her research career — at a time when many investigators have outgrown small grants but don’t yet qualify for larger ones — he and his second wife, Marian, decided to help.
Tom had already established a fellowship in obstetrics and gynecology in Nancy’s honor: the Nancy Kelley Jensen Endowed Faculty Fellowship in Gynecologic Oncology Research, Obstetrics and Gynecology, which Norquist holds. But with this gift, he wanted to provide even more help, giving Norquist’s research the boost needed to qualify for large grants.
“It’s such a powerful gesture,” says Norquist. “Whenever I think about this gift, it really helps me feel there are people who believe in me, and it inspires me to keep going.”
But before Norquist felt that she could accept the contribution, she wanted to be sure Tom understood that her research, which focuses on inherited ovarian cancer, doesn’t address the kind of uterine cancer that Nancy had.
Tom understood, and he was undeterred.
“I truly believe greater general benefit will occur by following where the research leads,” says Tom. “And I hope this gift will help Dr. Norquist accomplish the great things I know she will do.”