April 8, 2021

Working Hard, Giving Back: How One Donor Is Honoring Her Parents Through New Cancer Research Award

When it comes to her work ethic, and the values by which she lives her life, Tammy Becker knows exactly where it originated.  

“My parents did a really great job raising us kids,” she said. “They really made sure we knew what the important things in life were, like hard work and taking care of other people.”

Becker’s parents worked hard and sacrificed much to raise their five children. And much like her parents, Becker has worked hard to get where she is in life. Now a successful accountant, small business owner and the mother of four children herself, the La Crosse resident admits that life has been good to her. So when she found herself in a position to give back, she didn’t hesitate.

Working with the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse in 2018, she started a scholarship for local accounting students. When she told her mom about it, she remarked how wonderful it was that her daughter would be able to leave such a lasting legacy – a comment that brought some mixed emotions.

“I was saddened by the fact that my parents would never be able to do something like that themselves,” Becker said. “But then I thought, I can do that for them. I can do something.”

When it came time to figure out exactly how to honor her parents, Becker knew where to turn and what she wanted to do.  

“Cancer is something that personally touched both of my parents’ lives, and I was intimately involved with it with them,” she said. Over the last decade, Becker has spent plenty of time driving both parents to the UW Carbone Cancer Center, and even more time sitting with them during chemo and radiation appointments.

“The doctors and nurses at the UW Carbone Cancer Center impressed me greatly with their kindness, compassion and their professionalism and their caring attitudes,” she said.

Her dad, Thomas, first had leukemia – the “good kind,” according to his doctor – and was later diagnosed with lung cancer, which took his life in 2015. About a year later, her mom, Bonnie, was diagnosed with a very aggressive form of breast cancer. Fortunately, the treatment for that cancer was successful, and Bonnie is healthy, which allowed her to resume caretaking duties for her now 106-year-old mother.

Suffice to say, finding new cures for cancer – and supporting the research to make it possible – was naturally something that appealed to Becker. Working with the UW Foundation to create a lasting gift, she established the Thomas & Bonnie Minter Graduate Student Cancer Research Award in 2020. The monetary award will be given out annually to a graduate student doing cancer-related research.

For Becker, the award’s creation couldn’t have come at a better time. With COVID-19 putting the brakes on the family’s usual Christmas festivities, she wanted to do something extra special for her mom. 

Prior to Christmas, Becker and her family packed up the car with gifts for her mother – including an announcement and explanation of the award – to drop off at her house. “When I put my mom’s present under the tree, I did tell her that I didn’t get her anything off of her list this year, but I hoped it was something that she would like,” Becker said.

On Christmas Day, as separated family members opened their gifts, Becker wondered why she hadn’t heard much from her mom that day. But then she received a Facebook message at 4:50pm. In part, it read:

I am so speechless. Your dad would be so proud. It brings tears to my eyes. You are so thoughtful, loving, and giving.

“Of course, it touched my heart,” Becker said. “And I just responded back that I wish we could have been there together, and I love you.”

While COVID-19 precautions will delay the hugs and joyous celebration between mother and daughter, there will be no delay in getting the award off the ground. The first winner will be announced in the coming months, with the money being immediately available to the winner.

And the best part? Becker and her mom will have another chance to celebrate the following year. And the year after that. And so on.

“It’s one of these things that’s for good, forever,” Becker said. “It will always be there with my parents’ names attached to it. To know that they actually have some sort of legacy to help with eradicating cancer from the face of the earth, to me, it’s such an important, great thing.”

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