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Hillcrest Committee boosts OHSU battle against cancer

When the Hillcrest Committee organized in the mid-1900s, the Medford women's group put on a variety of small fundraisers to help in the fight against cancer. Seventy years later, the nonprofit has raised more than $2 million in that effort and has become an important player in funding cancer-related research.

The Hillcrest Committee will present its latest donation, a $145,000 check, to the Oregon Health & Science University Foundation this evening in an event at RoxyAnn Winery. Receiving the check will be Jeanette Mladenovic, OHSU executive vice president and provost, and Ann Raish, vice president of Oncology Services at the OHSU Knight Cancer Institute.

"It's pretty exciting what's going on up there," Cathy Theen, president of the Hillcrest group, said of OHSU. "Their labs are amazing; it's very high energy and collaborative."

That energy no doubt increased last year, when OHSU succeeded in meeting a $500 million matching challenge from Nike founder Phil Knight, creating a $1 billion fund to support the first large-scale program dedicated to early detection of lethal cancers. The Hillcrest Committee played a role in that success, contributing $100,000 toward the goal.

The Hillcrest Committee was founded in 1946 by Nan Day, whose family is among the owners of Hillcrest Orchard and who herself headed the first unit of the American Cancer Society in Jackson County. The group currently has about 50 members and raises money in an annual event in Medford.

Theen said the Medford group was long affiliated with the American Cancer Society but is now its own nonprofit and focuses on funding basic cancer research. OHSU will vet a variety of research proposals and present options to the Hillcrest Committee, which will determine later this year which project to fund.

She said she had a chance to meet with two researchers who had previously received funding from Hillcrest, describing them as "forces of nature."

The pair, Dr. Lara Davis, an oncologist, and Monika Davare, a researcher who holds a doctorate, are studying Leiomyosarcoma, a muscle tumor. Theen said the donation to their work was particularly meaningful to the Medford group.

"One of our members had Leiomyosarcoma and has since passed away," she said. "So it was very personal to connect with these two doctors."

Theen noted that OHSU is much more than a Portland facility, providing treatments for patients from throughout the region. OHSU recently announced that it would create a Campus for Rural Health, with headquarters in Klamath Falls. It is also planning to build a guest house in Portland to provide accommodations for patients and their families who must travel from some distance for care.