My Why: Haley Ward, MA

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Jerry and Haley Ward sit on concrete steps as she holds up her cap after graduating from college.

Jerald “Jerry” Ward was diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma and small cell lymphocytic lymphoma just three days before his 52nd birthday on May 23, 2006. His daughter Haley was just 10 years old.

“No child is prepared to hear, ‘your parent has cancer,”’ says Haley. “My father was the life of the party. He would give you the shirt off his back.”

Jerry, a hardworking father of four and a retired truck driver, wasn’t scared. He was ready to fight cancer. And young Haley was not frightened of her father’s treatment process. Rather, she took a vested interest in his care. She accompanied him to appointments at Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center, where nurses, doctors and other clinicians were caring and eager to answer her questions.

Today, Haley Ward, MA, is a Pathology Resource Technologist at Roswell Park. “Through all Dad’s treatments, they guided me. I wanted to be like them,” says Haley. “I always thought about working in health care, but I knew then Roswell Park was the place I wanted to work.”

After studying pre-med at University College Dublin and the University of Pittsburgh at Bradford, in 2021, Haley obtained her degree in pathology at the State University of New York at Buffalo Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences.

Father and daughter join forces in cancer fight

Jerry’s 15-year cancer journey later included diagnoses with large-cell B lymphoma and a type of leukemia known as myelodysplastic syndrome. His treatment of radiation continued until 2009, when he went into a year-long remission.

“We threw a party for him back home, and Radiation Technician Patricia Chapin was able to join us to help celebrate,” says Haley. “We knew the lymphoma would never really go away completely. It was a matter of finding ways to slow down the growth of tumor cells.”

Jerry underwent chemotherapy, including two clinical trials, and had a blood and marrow transplantation in 2018. That same year, Haley learned that she could become actively involved in her father’s treatment by donating platelets directly to him through The Donor Center at Roswell Park. Platelets are vital to patients who receive chemotherapy and transfusions and allow them to continue with their treatments. She continues to donate to this day.

“I knew that donating something that multiple patients need every day would be an opportunity to help when I couldn’t help physically,” says Haley. “I encourage anyone who is able and willing to donate to make an appointment with The Donor Center.”

The Donor Center at Roswell Park

Our patients have a consistent need for blood products, and donors are the only ones who can meet that need. Learn more about the Donor Center and make an appointment today!

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Jerry lost his brave battle with cancer in August 2021, just four days after Haley interviewed for her job at Roswell Park as a Pathology Research Technician.

“Dad was always saying ‘I’m going to fight it. I am not ready to give up.’ I believe this speaks volumes as to what any survivor, or anyone who lost their battle goes through. You have to be ready to fight,” says Haley. “We called Roswell Park our ‘home away from home.’ He told everyone there is nowhere else he’d rather be for his treatment.”

Focused on a better future for cancer patients

Haley dedicates her work as a Pathology Research Technician in the Tissue Procurement Department in her father’s memory. If traces of tissue remain after a patient’s surgery that our pathologists do not need for the cancer diagnosis, Haley’s department procures that tissue and distributes it to different departments around campus for their studies.

“I know Dad would be proud of what I do. Everyone here is working toward an end to this disease. Because so many people are affected by cancer in some way, it is nice to be part of a group working towards a common goal.”

In fact, many people who were so devoted to her father’s care are still employed at Roswell Park. Haley enjoys being able to interact with them.

“Every staff member who was part of his treatment is so important to my family,” she says.

Haley recalls recently seeing a picture on Roswell Park’s Facebook page of a 102-year-old woman ringing the Victory Bell.

“My dad’s goal was to ring that Victory Bell,” says Haley. “That’s definitely part of My Why. Even though he never had the chance, I am inspired when I hear the Victory Bell ring every day."