August 20, 2019
Even after fighting a near decade-long battle with cancer, Maria Weinberger’s giving spirit remained unbreakable, demonstrated by a very special request: she wanted to give back.
So, before she died in September of 2018, she and her husband, Gary, discussed creating the Gary Weinberger Endowment for Cancer in Memory of Maria Weinberger. The fund will support the Sanford Health Foundation’s Reimagine campaign which will prepare the Roger Maris Cancer Center for the next generation of cancer care and discovery.
Journey with cancer
Maria was diagnosed with cancer on June 4, 2009, when she went to see her doctor about lower back problems.
“She went in for an MRI and CAT scan, and thought it was just something with her muscles,” Gary said. “They came back and told us that no, it’s not muscles, it’s stage four lung cancer and it had metastasized into her bones, including her spinal column. The pain was actually the cancer pressing against her spinal cord.”
The next day, the team at Roger Maris started radiation on her back and lungs. By May of 2010, not quite a year from her original diagnosis, doctors believed Maria was cancer-free. This was a relief for the Weinbergers since she was originally given 10 to 12 months to live.
But, that fall, Maria’s cancer returned in three small spots.
“That’s basically what they continued to work on until last June when she started having some headaches,” Gary said. “They did another MRI and CAT scan and found the cancer had spread to her brain.”
Maria continued to battle hard through her disease, even enduring 10 full-brain radiation treatments. But this time the cancer couldn’t be stopped. “Maria made cancer look easy, “ Gary said. “She fought a hard battle.”
During the nearly 10 years she received care at Roger Maris, Maria grew closer to the staff, like her oncologist Dr. Anu Gaba and the team of nurses and caregivers.
“She became like family,” Gary said. “During Maria’s ongoing chemo treatments, once a month, she would take goodies for all the nurses and everybody there. When you’re going somewhere for that long, you build those relationships.”
When Maria knew someone – a family member, a friend of a friend or a connection at Roger Maris – who had cancer, she would send them a copy of “365 Days of Healing” by Mark Brazee. The book contains a collection of devotions and prayers for every day of the year.
“She was a devout Christian, and that was her ministry while she was in treatment,” Gary said. “She sent them as far away as Minneapolis and Wisconsin.”
Those relationships, and the Weinbergers’ overall experience, inspired them to support the Fargo Roger Maris Cancer Center Fund over the years.
“After going to Roger Maris for nine and a half years, you learn a little bit more about Sanford,” Gary said. “God blessed us during that time, so we can bless others.”
When he learned about the Reimagine campaign and the vision for the future of Roger Maris, Gary felt proud of the difference he knew he was making as a donor.
“Seeing the perspective overview for the next five years and what their plans were for making the Roger Maris Cancer Center into a destination for cancer patients… to be a part of that, that’s a good feeling,” he said.
When you create an endowment through the Sanford Health Foundation, you leave an important legacy for the future of health care. Your gift becomes an investment that drives innovation and keeps Sanford ahead of the curve in caring for your loved ones and neighbors for years to come.
“If people support local health care, there’s a lot that money can do for research, development and patient care,” Gary said.
To learn more about establishing an endowment to support the future of cancer care at Roger Maris through the Reimagine campaign, or another area of health care you’re most passionate about, please contact one of our gift officers: