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Patient Gives Back After Facing Lymphoma

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Fall 2006 – His life changed overnight. In October 2000, Ken Steinback – fit and feeling healthy – did his customary four-mile run. The next day, he discovered a large lump on his neck. After a whirlwind of appointments, scans and biopsies, he received the startling diagnosis: non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

Not only did Steinback attack his disease aggressively by seeking the latest treatments available at the Siteman Cancer Center at Barnes-Jewish Hospital and Washington University School of Medicine, but he also decided to do what he could to spare others the same experience. In 2004, he donated $100,000 to establish the Kenneth B. Steinback Endowed Fund for Cancer Research, which will be used to support research efforts in the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of lymphoma.

“I have always been a believer in giving back to the community,” says Steinback, chairman of CSI Leasing Inc., an international company with 450 employees that he started 33 years ago. “I think everyone who has resources should give back. Now my wife and I have a cause that is near and dear to us. If this helps me live longer and better, that’s great. But even if I don’t make it and it helps somebody else, the money still went to the right place.”

Behind his generous gift lies a story of survival, aided by the nurses, physicians and other personnel at the Siteman Cancer Center to whom Steinback remains extremely grateful. In 2000, his treatment began with a four-month outpatient chemotherapy regimen, which successfully put him in remission.

But a year later, while Steinback was undergoing a routine scan, physicians discovered that his disease had returned, this time in a different place. Siteman’s team of lymphoma specialists discussed Steinback’s case before a treatment plan was recommended.

“In my opinion, that is one of the great advantages of a university hospital and being in a place like Washington University,” Steinback says. “You get the opinion of a lot of experts, not just one.”

Still, the experts’ opinion frightened him. They spoke of things Steinback had never dreamed of: a long hospitalization, a stem-cell transplant, powerful new chemotherapy agents. “The sweat was literally running off me,” Steinback says.

To better understand their plan, Steinback called on his “support network” of friends around the country, some of whom are physicians.

“A lot of people came to my aid,” he says. “It was a terrific network, and I was very happy to have it. But when I understood what I would have to go through, I was probably even more scared. I knew the statistics. I knew the mortality rate. I knew everything.”

At that point, his care was being directed by Nancy Bartlett, MD, a lymphoma specialist at Siteman. Behind the scenes, she had been consulting on his case and already knew it well.

“She has been a godsend to me,” Steinback says. “She is warm and compassionate, with a very nice bedside manner, and she gave me good care. In fact, she got me well.”

From March to the end of August 2002, he spent 43 nights in the hospital undergoing his transplant and related chemotherapy. Then came six months of recovery at home. Now, three years later, he is still in remission.

As he looks back on his hospital experience, Steinback has only the highest praise for the nurses, nurses aides and other staff members who took care of him.

“Everybody treated me very well,” he says. “Driving home from the hospital on July 20, 2002, after my transplant, I was pretty weak, but I said to my wife, ‘I’m going to do something for those people.’ I got all their names, maybe 60 of them, and sent them something — just a token saying have a nice dinner on me.”

Later, he decided to do something even more substantial: set up a fund, administered by Bartlett, that would help support promising research projects in such areas as lymphoma-related pharmacogenetics, genomics or gene therapy. In addition to his own gift, he asked friends whether they would like to contribute, and they have so far added more than $30,000 to the endowment.

Today, Steinback spends more time than ever with his wife, Marilyn, his children, Susan and Bob, and two granddaughters, one of them born just 12 days before he began the chemotherapy that preceded his stem-cell transplant.

“Life is precious,” he says.