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Woodruff Endowment to Help Cancer Patients

Donr Swayze Woodruff

The late Swayze Woodruff with J.R., her beloved horse

Mary Bess Woodruff learned countless things during her only child's battle with cancer. But perhaps the most significant was that even one hour of normalcy-free from shots, transfusions and scans-is a gift. More than a decade after her daughter, Swayze, lost her battle, Mary Bess wants to give that gift to others.

The Swayze Woodruff Memorial Endowment will benefit patients and families of the Children's Cancer Clinic at Batson Children's Hospital at the University of Mississippi Medical Center. Mary Bess hopes the planned gift from her estate, will help make life a little easier for cancer patients and their families.

"I wanted a fund that would maybe make the awful stuff you have to go through a little better," Mary Bess says. "It's an awful journey not just for patients and parents but for brothers and sisters, too. If there's something that can give them two hours that might make them laugh, that's what I want it to do."

Dr. Gail Megason, professor of pediatric hematology and oncology and director of the Children's Cancer Clinic, says funds are essential to providing well-rounded care for patients and support both curative treatment and emotional well-being of patients and families.

"This fund may be used for anything from travel expenses and medications to books and toys." Dr. Megason says.

Mary Bess' gift was born out of a conversation with a fellow caregiver. The woman, a single mother of two, had custody of her sister's two children, one of whom had cancer.

"She was not whining, not complaining, she was just saying how hard it is to work, do stuff with the kids and take care of a sick child," Mary Bess says. "She said something as simple as going to Pizza Hut was a big deal for them."

Mary Bess was moved because she understood the value of normal in the all-too-abnormal world of cancer treatment. "I used to pray for just a normal day, one without shots. That's something we all take for granted."

Swayze's ‘normal' was her horse, Two-Steppin' Oreo, better known as J.R. Before her diagnosis, Swayze was an active 12-year-old who showed J.R. at Mississippi Quarter Horse Association events across the region. That changed in 1994, when doctors discovered Ewing sarcoma, a bone tumor in her pelvis, which had metastasized to her lungs and liver. Surgery was not an option.

During treatment, Swayze's determination to ride grew stronger, although doctors advised against it. "The horses were Swayze's lifeline," Mary Bess says. "We begged the doctors to let her ride." When they agreed, Swayze's attitude turned around.

Swayze went into remission in 1996. "I think that being on that horse was one of the reasons she did better than expected," Mary Bess says.

The next two years saw the Woodruffs getting back to being an ordinary family, traveling to horse shows and watching Swayze rack up awards.

Their joy was short-lived. In late 1998, a then 16-year-old Swayze's blood work showed she had leukemia. She postponed treatment to participate in a couple of more horse shows, which she won. Swayze died in April 1999.

Later, Mary Bess and her husband decided they made the right choices. "Quality was more important than quantity to us."

This resolve carried Mary Bess through Swayze's and then Garry's death in 2009 and guided her to establish the endowment. "After I lost Swayze, I started praying that I could touch one life. Hopefully, this gift will give the patients and families just a touch of happiness for a minute."

"I think Garry and Swayze would be proud."

Honor a Loved One
If you would like to leave a gift in honor or memory of a loved one that will support our treatment of cancer patients, contact Sandra Guest at 662-915-5208 or today, at no obligation.


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