Annie McNamara Evans was just 25 years old when she was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia (AML). She underwent treatment at Dana-Farber that included two bone marrow transplants and several experimental therapies. During this time, she raised awareness and funds for the Institute—speaking on air at the WEEI/NESN Jimmy Fund Radio-Telethon and at the annual Friends of Dana-Farber dinner, for example—using her trademark humor and grace to share her experiences and inspire others facing a similar journey.
Unfortunately, Annie relapsed in 2018, shortly before her wedding to her college sweetheart, Dan Evans, and passed away in November 2019 at the age of 29.
What followed was an outpouring of love on a monumental scale. Nearly every person whom Annie had touched over the course of her life, including doctors and nurses on her care team led by Robert Soiffer, MD, found some way of taking up her cause for Dana-Farber—running the Dana-Farber Marathon Challenge and Falmouth Road Race, riding in the Pan-Mass Challenge, holding bake sales, selling knitted hats and scarves, donating to her Jimmy Fund Giving Page, advocating for research into cures for AML, and above all, supporting each other over their shared loss.
“Right after Annie died, Dr. Soiffer emailed me asking about arrangements, and I wrote back to say ’Don’t feel like you need to come. You don’t see your families enough as it is,’” said Sally McNamara, Annie’s mother. “And he wrote back to me, ’You are family.’ It’s the thing that’s stuck with me— I’ll never forget it.”
“The generosity of Annie’s friends and family has been deeply moving, and demonstrates how many lives she touched,” said Soiffer, who is the chief of the Division of Hematologic Malignancies. “I know I speak for my entire team when I say thank you— funding like this means the world for the vital work we do every day at Dana-Farber.”
Annie’s family also made a generous gift of more than $1 million to Dana-Farber. Soiffer himself recommended that a substantial portion of the gift should go to support the nursing staff—a cause especially meaningful to Annie’s friends and family, because it would have been especially meaningful to Annie.
To that end, her family’s gift established a program dedicated to helping Dana-Farber’s transplant nurses and nurse practitioners navigate the process of grief and loss, through strengthening coping skills, facilitating the bereavement process, fostering stronger peer relationships, and reducing stress and compassion fatigue.
“My hope for the nursing portion of this gift is to foster and sustain that nursing community and that strength that they had,” said Dan. “Their strength gave Annie a lot of strength, which gave us a lot of strength.”
“Our transplant nurses and nurse practitioners manage the care of patients through some of the most complex and challenging moments of their lives,” said Anne Gross, PhD, RN, senior vice president, Patient Care Services and chief nursing officer. “We are so grateful to Annie’s family for supporting our exceptional clinicians in such a meaningful way.”
The rest of the gift will fund research into AML and stem cell transplants under the direction of Soiffer, further ensuring that Annie’s legacy lives on.
“She’s our North Star. She’s very missed,” said Sally. “But we feel a lot of love.”