Sheila (McDaniel) Henry ’87 knew if she was going to make a career in fundraising, it would have to be for a cause she was passionate about. She found that passion at UCLA’s Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center, where she spent 18 years raising money for cancer research.
As a three-time cancer survivor since she was 17 years old, Henry found her work deeply meaningful.
“I am absolutely committed to the mission of the organization as a cancer survivor,” Henry says. “For me to be close to the discoveries and knowing that progress was really happening and that I had a role as a fundraiser to contributing to it, that was very personal work to me.”
A Personal Journey
When Henry was a senior in high school, she was diagnosed with a sarcoma. After surgery, she was able to graduate on time and attend Notre Dame in the fall of 1983.
During her sophomore year as an American Studies major, her schedule included 10 rounds of chemotherapy at St. Joseph Hospital because the sarcoma recurred in her lung, something she was warned about after her first surgery.
A big concern for Henry was being able to stay at Notre Dame, something her parents continually supported.
“I am grateful to them forever for not insisting that I move back home,” she says. “They were very supportive of me to try and live my life through the cancer experience I was having.”
Henry was cancer-free from the summer of 1984 until 2001, when she was diagnosed with a new cancer in her left breast. Her treatment was more aggressive because she was older (though still young to be diagnosed with breast cancer). Following a lumpectomy, she received radiation and eight rounds of chemotherapy.
In the summer of 2013, she was diagnosed with breast cancer again, this time in her right breast. Treatment consisted of a double mastectomy and another eight rounds of chemotherapy. Now, she’s nearly five years cancer-free.
“I am so grateful,” Henry says. “So many people went before me and did clinical trials and got researchers to know more about these diseases. My last two diagnoses were when I was working for one of the best cancer centers in the country and I had the best people close to me.”
Making a Difference
Henry appreciated the opportunity to make a difference at Jonsson.
“For me, it really was about being able to make my contribution using the skills that I had,” she says. “I was not cut out to go to medical school or be a researcher, but I was cut out to write and to advocate and to help explain to others how their gifts could make a difference.”
Henry most recently worked with donors who wanted to make large gifts to the organization, usually somewhere in the six to seven figure range. She also assisted donors who made estate gifts, helping them use the correct language to ensure their wishes would be honored after they died.
Before that, Henry was focused on raising funds for projects that needed an initial push to move past the idea stage. Those funds helped researchers launch clinical trials and test novel theories with a goal of developing better cancer treatments.
Henry says most of the donors she worked with were patients or had family members treated by Jonsson. She got to know many donors personally, hearing their stories while guiding them through the giving process.
“They were the embodiment of the progress, the advances being made,” Henry says. “I could see that progress happening and it was a gift to me in a lot of ways because it gave me hope. I knew there were people working to change the future of many thousands of cancer patients.”
Henry’s decision to leave Jonsson didn’t come lightly. She loved being part of the work the center was doing, but the weight of thinking about cancer daily was taking a toll on her.
“As a cancer survivor from the age of 17, I had thought about cancer a lot most days,” Henry says. “But to do that every day in my working life, it really did get to a point where I recognized it was not healthy for me. Even with the positive signs, it just weighed on me too heavily and I felt it was time for me to step away.”
Since retiring in the summer of 2017, Henry has taken the time to be a full-time mom to her 14-year-old son. She is thankful for the opportunity to dedicate more time to her family, and grateful she had the chance to help others who, like her, had faced battles with cancer.
“This was really my way of giving back and being able to pay it forward for other people who would be diagnosed with cancers,” she says. “And I found it impactful and deeply meaningful to use my skills to ultimately help make a difference for others.”
To learn more about the work UCLA’s Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center does to help fight cancer, please visit cancer.ucla.edu.