Cancer survivor driven by promise to daughter

NEW CANAAN, Conn. - Each year, more than 20,000 Americans are diagnosed with a blood cancer called multiple myeloma. As CBS News medical correspondent Dr. Jon LaPook reports, many people are living longer with the disease, thanks to a woman on a personal crusade.

When corporate leaders meet Kathy Giusti, they want to hear the secret to her success in the business of fighting cancer.

Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation

Fifteen years ago, Giusti was on the fast-track in the corporate world, and was happy at home with her husband and her baby daughter, Nicole. Then a routine test found multiple myeloma.

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"There was absolutely no hope," Giusti said. "I distinctly remember the doctor just holding my hand, looking me in the eye and saying 'Kathy, go get your life in order, and spend time with your family.'"

Doctors gave her only three to four years. But she decided she had to buy time, for her daughter.

"I just want her to remember me, I just want her to know that she had a mom," Giusti said. "So my entire goal, setting out on this journey, was just to live long enough so she would remember me."

After having another baby, a son, Giusti used her business background to create a start-up, The Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation. It's raised over $160 million since 1998. She got the normally competitive researchers to share information.

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"We try to bring everybody together around one common goal and motivate them."

The results have been unheard of in cancer research: four new drugs approved, with another seven in late stage development. Geraldine Ferraro was a fellow patient who became a close friend.

Giusti was with Ferraro in 2001 when she announced that she had multiple myeloma. Giusti called it "One of the most incredible moments of my life."

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Did Ferraro benefit from any of the drugs brought to market? Giusti said Ferraro was on every drug, and "bought 12 years." She added, "the lifespan when she was diagnosed was not much more than the three or four I'd been given."

Giusti is in remission and doing well. She never forgets the promise she made to her daughter 15 years ago.

"All those years ago, I just kept thinking, 'If she saw a photo, would she remember me?'" Giusti said, "She remembers me, oh she remembers me." The promise to her child has helped so many others.
  • Jonathan LaPook

    Dr. Jonathan LaPook is the chief medical correspondent for the CBS Evening News. Follow him on Twitter at @DrLaPook