Wolfe family's legacy supports cancer research at UW Carbone Cancer Center

What can a single family do, when faced with the loss of a 28-year-old son to brain cancer?

If you’re the Wolfe family of Menomonee Falls, the answer is: A million things.

This June 23 will mark the 20th year that Jerry and Nancy Wolfe and their family have hosted a Golf Fore Wolfe in memory of son Eric, who loved golf, and whose catch line, “It’s always a great day for golf,’’ helps kick off the event at the Ironwood Country Club in Waukesha County.

Along with a companion event, Run With Wolfes, started by Eric’s sister Cara Olson, the family has raised more than $1 million.

The family has donated the money to support research at the UW Carbone Cancer in Madison, where physicians took care of Eric during the five years he lived with brain cancer, which was diagnosed while he was a UW-Madison student.

There’s a strong UW alumni component to the events: sister Cara was a member of the Wisconsin pom squad (now called the dance team); her husband Rob Olson, was in marching band; and every year, a number of the golf foursomes are made up of Badger Marching Band alumni.

“Everyone in our family graduated from Wisconsin except me, I’m a Carroll College grad,’’ says Jerry Wolfe.

And everyone who attends becomes part of the extended Wolfe family. Dr. Paul Harari, chairman of Human Oncology, says that he has been touched how the Wolfes naturally support and encourage patients and other families who have lost loved ones to brain cancer, and make them part of the cause.

“The Wolfes are a tremendous example of people who have turned their own tragedy into an event that gives hope to so many others,’’ says Harari. “They have created a wonderful legacy for their son, and for our cancer patients in the future.”

In recent years, with the Wolfe fund nearing the $1 million mark, it has been used to support a promising young cancer researcher for fellowship training. The very first Eric Wolfe Fellow, Dr. Hima “Bindu” Musunuru, is currently in the second year of her radiation oncology research fellowship.

Dr. Musunuru’s research has focused on using radiation in a more targeted manner, to avoid harming healthy tissue surrounding the tumor, an issue that is especially important to brain-cancer patients. While she has been involved with projects involving several cancer types, her work with UW Carbone brain-cancer specialist Dr. Steven Howard is aimed at delivering radiation in pulsed low doses to treat brain cancer that has returned after initial treatment.

“I have truly enjoyed this fellowship, which has given me an opportunity to develop unique clinical protocols involving targeted radiation therapy while minimizing side effects,’’ she says.

As for Jerry Wolfe, he remembers Dr. Howard as being part of the team that cared for Eric.

“They took care of him for five years, and that’s why I’m so committed to the UW Carbone Cancer Center,’’ he says.

Wolfe says that the 20th Golf for Wolfes will be his largest fundraiser, although he expects the event will continue in a less formal manner in years to come.

Dr. Harari laughs and acknowledges that Jerry Wolfe certainly deserves to slow down.

“Jerry has been telling me for years he is going to slow down,’’ Harari says. “However, I have seen no sign of it. He is like the energizer bunny. Have a hunch he may continue leveraging his enormous positive energy for years to come.”