“Jenny was my neighbor across the street when we met in 2003,” says Elizabeth Wong. “We got a kick out of our last names being the same. Although we were from totally different places—she was from New Zealand and I’m from the U.S.—we were close in age. She was open, friendly and smart.”
Jenny was diagnosed with breast cancer and died of the disease in 2020.
In memory of Jennifer Wong, Elizabeth made a donation toward establishing the Hawai‘i Pacific Islands Mammographic Registry. The registry compiles breast cancer risk information, such as mammograms and MRIs, from women in screening programs, says John Shepherd, PhD, Interim Deputy Director and Chief Scientific Officer at the UH Cancer Center.
“Hawai‘i is behind in understanding breast cancer risk in our specific mix of ethnicities, cultural influences and genetics,” he says. “We had no Hawai‘i mammography registry or coordination between our medical centers to identify how the risk of breast cancer is unique in Hawai‘i.”
Early stage research projects, called pilot studies, often rely on support from private donors while preliminary data are collected. If the findings are compelling, researchers will be more likely to compete for and receive larger federal grants. Elizabeth’s gift puts Shepherd’s work in position for greater funding later.
Elizabeth knew the project was right for a gift in her friend’s honor. “Dr. Shepherd’s work is interesting and necessary,” she says. “It falls in line with Jenny’s story, and she would be happy to be associated with it. She did everything she was supposed to do for treatment of her breast cancer, but after five years, the cancer came back.
“She was a great mother and a great wife. Jenny’s family was the heart of her life. She loved her dog Macchiato, who was her best friend. She had four daughters who are fabulous people. She was married for more than 40 years. And she was one of my best friends.”
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