Cancer patient, family form Triumph Fund to help MCW expand cancer clinical trials

Feb. 18, 2014 College News - It didn’t take long for John Hovel to transition from cancer patient to cancer research advocate as his health improved through treatment at the Medical College of Wisconsin (MCW). With his wife and daughters, he has established The Triumph Fund, which is leading a charge to raise funds to support cancer clinical trials at the MCW Cancer Center.

Hovel was diagnosed with colon cancer in 2010. His care at the Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin Clinical Cancer Center included the expertise of James Thomas, MD, PhD, Professor of Medicine (Hematology/ Oncology) and Medical Director of the MCW Cancer Center Clinical Trials Office. Through conversations with Dr. Thomas, Hovel realized that by fundraising for clinical trials he could impact all types of cancer while focusing on a particular component of research.

“It dawned on me early in my diagnosis that I’m in a fortunate position, and I have a moral obligation to assist in the fight against cancer. The logical way for me to do it is by helping raise funds for research,” Hovel said. “The Triumph Fund combined the idea of supporting the fight against cancer broadly yet supporting a specific area of research while saying ‘thank you’ to Dr. Thomas on behalf of our family.”

Since joining the MCW faculty in 2010, Dr. Thomas has been building the portfolio and presence of cancer clinical trials, an important step toward the College’s goal of National Cancer Institute designation, which would increase exposure, access and resources for the program. Enrollment in cancer clinical trials has more than doubled since 2010.

“With the increasing complexity of clinical trials and our efforts to conduct more early-phase trials, which are even more complex, it is really important that we offer the most experienced, capable workforce to our patients and investigators,” Dr. Thomas said. “The money provided by The Triumph Fund is being used to train our staff, to develop training and education materials and processes, and to allow our coordinators to attend conferences and other development opportunities.”

The team is also outfitting a conference and training room supported by The Triumph Fund, he said. Hovel, along with his wife, Janis, and their daughters, Lauren and Jenna, were able to provide this support through an inaugural event they named “Honoring the Lorax” which references the Dr. Seuss character who teaches that someone who cares can make a difference. Held June 26, 2013, in Milwaukee, the event featured dinner and presentations by Medical College faculty members, including Dr. Thomas. Total attendance was nearly 170 people. Hovel’s extended family assisted in organizing and carrying out what they expect will be an annual event.

“Clinical trials offer hope. They, today, are preparing the standard of care for tomorrow,” said Hovel, who lives in Wauwatosa but considers MCW a national leader. “Based on what I’ve seen so far, if I moved to either coast or to Houston, I would continue to come to MCW for care. I’ve received what I think is an incredibly high standard of care and compassion.”

Through the efforts of the Hovel family, friends and other donors, almost $30,000 has been raised for The Triumph Fund this year for cancer clinical trials at MCW.

“The ability to offer emerging cancer therapies to our patients through clinical trials is a hallmark of an academic medical center dedicated to cancer care,” said Joseph E. Kerschner, MD, Dean of the Medical School and Executive Vice President of MCW. “This contribution by the Hovel family and friends recognizes the significance of increasing access to clinical trials and is helping make that happen.”

In the know
Learn more about cancer clinical trials at MCW by visiting

Guests and organizers of Honoring the Lorax included (L-R) Kirk Ludwig, MD, the Vernon O. Underwood Professor in Colon Cancer Research, Chief and Professor of Colorectal Surgery; former MCW surgical oncologist Sam Pappas, MD; T. Clark Gamblin, MD, MS, the Stuart D. Wilson Professor of Surgery and Associate Professor and Chief of Surgical Oncology; William S. Rilling, MD, Professor of Radiology and of Surgery, and Chief of Vascular and Interventional Radiology; Janis Hovel; Jenna Hovel; John Hovel; Lauren Hovel; James Thomas, MD, PhD, Professor of Medicine (Hematology/Oncology) and Medical Director of the MCW Cancer Center Clinical Trials Office; Paul Ritch, MD, Professor of Medicine (Hematology/Oncology); and Kiran Turaga, MD, MPH, Assistant Professor of Surgical Oncology.


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