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Marc Jackson: A determined life, a legacy of support for brain cancer patients


Marc Jackson with his niece on his shoulders.At six feet eight inches tall, Marc Jackson had a unique view of the world. He often shared it with his young nieces who reveled in sitting astride their fun-loving uncle’s shoulders – from this lofty vantage point they felt at once powerful and safe. With Uncle Marc, they could touch the sky.

Allie was just a baby and Bri was not born yet when Marc, the only sibling of their mom, Kari, was diagnosed with a brain tumor in 2004 at age 27. In the midst of preparing for a Christmas party, Marc experienced a violent seizure that sent his large frame crashing through his apartment wall.

“Marc was taken by ambulance to a nearby community hospital,” said Kari. “Initially, we were told he was dehydrated. Marc being Marc wanted to return home and resume the party,” she recalled. Then a CT scan identified a large mass in the left frontal lobe of his brain. “The medical team said it was cancer,” Kari said. “They suggested that my parents kiss Marc goodbye.”

Hope and Dr. Wu

The Jackson family refused to believe such a dire prognosis and, after a great deal of research, scheduled a consultation with Julian Wu, MD, a neurosurgeon who would remain part of Marc’s care team for the next eight years. “Dr. Wu is one of the most amazing men I’ve ever met,” said Kari. “Calm, confident and reassuring, his bedside manner equals his surgical skills.” Dr. Wu operated on Marc and successfully removed a rare type of glioma called an oligodendroglioma.

After a six-week recovery, Marc returned to his job at State Street in Boston’s financial district. He was followed closely with scans in the Brain Tumor Center where his optimistic attitude impacted staff, patients and families alike. Marc resumed his busy life: visiting his parents in Melrose, traveling to see Kari and her family in New York, hanging out with close childhood friends and following his favorite Boston sports teams.

Marc Jackson and his family.

A new normal 

When a routine scan showed tumor progression, Marc was treated with chemotherapy by a neuro-oncologist at the Tufts Medical Center Cancer Center. Over the course of his treatment, Marc would undergo two brain surgeries, two gamma knife procedures, chemotherapy and radiation. “He never complained,” said Kari. “He was more concerned about how his illness affected me, my kids and our parents.”

Despite his grueling care regimen, Marc was determined to live a normal life. According to his nurse practitioner Nadine Linendoll, PhD, MDiv, GNP, Marc eventually became unsteady on his feet and needed to use a cane. Despite these deficits, Marc still commuted to and from Boston on the MBTA. “We’d talk and laugh about life. He was such a strong person,” Nadine said. As Marc sat in the waiting room and interacted with patients, he learned firsthand that many struggled to make ends meet. “He appreciated the care he received here and was grateful that he remained financially stable throughout his illness.”

Marc Jackson Neuro-oncology Patient Support Fund

When Marc died in May 2013, Kari and her husband, Mike, spoke with Nadine about establishing a fund in Marc’s name. Together, they created a fund that would directly benefit patients with brain or spinal cord tumors and their families. “Cancer treatment is intense and patients often cannot work, throwing their lives into complete upheaval,” said Nadine. “Offering financial assistance during such a difficult time can be life-changing for these struggling families.”

The Marc Jackson Neuro-oncology Patient Support Fund is supported by an annual golf tournament called Toots Fore Tufts, honoring Marc’s nickname and his love of the sport. The non-profit foundation is also funded by social events throughout the year as well as participation in the Falmouth Road Race.

Making a difference in the lives of others

Recipients of the Jackson Fund are chosen by a multidisciplinary neuro-oncology team at Tufts Medical Center comprised of a doctor, social worker, nurse and clinic coordinator. Selected families receive a prepaid credit card that can be used at their discretion. The Jackson Fund also covers parking passes and meals while at Tufts MC. Reiki, a comforting alternative therapy which was important to Marc and his family during his illness, is also funded.

The Jackson fund monies have been used for wide and varied reasons, from insurance co-payment fees for tests and medications to groceries, rent and travel expenses. “One family with three school aged children paid for back to school costs. Another paid for her son to attend the prom and take his SATs,” said Nadine, noting that families who have been helped often pay it forward, donating to the fund later. 

A lasting legacy

“Marc lives on in his charitable foundation,” said Dr. Wu. “He was truly a remarkable human. He lived his life to the fullest even when he was quite ill and, above all, genuinely cared for others…family, friends and other patients. He is with me whenever I see a brain tumor patient.”