Why I Give: Don and Judy Oliphant and Terry Hackett

Why I Give: Don and Judy Oliphant and Terry Hackett

Scripps supporters honor a loved one with lifesaving legacy 

As the old adage goes: an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. In early 2022, Scripps will launch a system-wide lung cancer screening program as part of the preventive services offered by Scripps Cancer Center, thanks to generous donations from local philanthropists Don and Judy Oliphant and Terry Hackett. The Oliphants and Hackett sought to honor Jana Oliphant Hackett (Terry’s wife and Don’s sister, who passed away from lung cancer in early 2021), with a legacy gift to Scripps. Don and Judy donated $1 million, and when they informed Terry, he was thrilled and thought it would be a wonderful tribute to Jana. He even commented, “Her soul is smiling.” He matched it with another $1 million gift to create the Jana Oliphant Hackett Lung Cancer Screening Program.

(From left) Scripps donors Judy and Don Oliphant and Terry Hackett looking proud of their philanthropic accomplishments.

Judy Oliphant, Don Oliphant and Terry Hackett

Jana was a lifelong athlete and avid golfer who’d never smoked. After visiting her doctor to address pain she believed to be from a pulled muscle along her ribs, she was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer that had metastasized. She was 71. Her family hopes that the establishment of a comprehensive lung cancer screening program will spare others the hardship of facing a similar ordeal.

“Jana was an amazing lady, always helping others” says Terry. “Life is interesting — everyone gets a deck of cards, and you don’t know what’s in it. Now our underlying goal is to provide the initial resources to create a better early protocol on detection. If we could initiate a program, perhaps families can catch lung cancer before it becomes inoperable or medically non-treatable.”

Early detection is key to improving outcomes for many types of cancer, and lung cancer is no exception, says Thomas Buchholz, MD, medical director, Scripps Cancer Center, and radiation oncologist, Scripps Clinic. However, one of the biggest challenges with lung cancer is that often there aren’t any noticeable symptoms until it's already become advanced. Just 20 percent of lung cancer cases are diagnosed at relatively early stage.

“If you look at the overall survival rates in lung cancer, they're poor,” says Dr. Buchholz. “Lung cancer continues to be the number-one cause of cancer-related deaths in the US, with more than 150,000 people expected to die of lung cancer this year. This program is going to be a real game changer.” 

The screening program, the first of its kind in San Diego, will cater to people at increased risk for lung cancer, such as current or former smokers age 50 and up. Specific criteria are set by the US Preventive Services Task Force. Eligible patients will undergo periodic low-radiation-dose CT scans, be checked for signs of emphysema and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and receive counseling on tobacco cessation, if applicable. Afterward, patients will get a call or letter with their results and a specific follow-up plan. Samir Makani, MD, interventional pulmonologist, Scripps Cancer Center, says that if the scan is negative — meaning there was no evidence of cancer or any areas of concern — then additional scans are conducted annually.

“Philanthropy can help in so many areas, and I've personally seen the impact it has on patients. It's been such an important part of our cancer program at Scripps.” — Thomas Buchholz, MD, Scripps Cancer Center, Scripps Clinic 

Routine screenings for certain cancers, like breast cancer, cervical cancer and colon cancer, have become an expected part of our health care regimens. The intent of this program is to extend those automatic screenings to lung cancer as well.

Dr. Buchholz and Dr. Makani both note that it’s philanthropic contributions, like the incredible generosity of the Oliphants and Hackett, that make programs like this possible. “Philanthropy can help in so many areas,” Dr. Buchholz says, “and I've personally seen the impact it has on patients. It's been such an important part of our cancer program at Scripps.”

Philanthropy also fuels research and advancement. “Without philanthropy, many innovations, including screening programs such as this, wouldn't exist,” says Dr. Makani. “We are able to provide state-of-the-art care to the community of San Diego and Southern California that normally wouldn't be available without these types of donations.”

For the Oliphants and Hackett, it’s all about making a difference for others in the community and saving lives. “We can't stand the thought of other people going through this battle and being caught flatfooted,” Judy says. “And if there’s one person out there who doesn't have to go through that — well, wouldn't that be a huge blessing?”

They also hope that their generosity inspires others to get involved. “We'd like to encourage anybody and everybody to donate to this program we launched with our $2 million donation,” Don says. “It's got to continue, and that takes funding.”

Learn about more ways to support Scripps Cancer Center, including the lung cancer screening program.

This content appeared in San Diego Health, a publication in partnership between Scripps and San Diego Magazine that celebrates the healthy spirit of San Diego.