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Eileen Was the Ever-Popular “It Girl” Among Her Schoolmates in Riverdale, New York

Nicknamed “Helen” for the mythical Helen of Troy, Eileen radiated stunning beauty and charm inside and out. Despite these gifts, Eileen defied stereotypes; she was neither self-centered nor aloof. She touched everyone, literally and emotionally. Grabbing you by the arm to laugh when something struck her fancy or touching your soul with her thousand-watt smile, huge green eyes, infectious laughter, and whip-smart, agile, spirited mind. Eileen also looked out for the underdog, those less naturally gifted than she, guided by her deep-seated sense of justice and fair play. As feisty as she was kind, Eileen was no one to be trifled with; she was fiercely competitive, driven to excel and never quit.

In 1984, at age seventeen, hardship struck Eileen…

While being treated for Asthma, her doctor accidentally discovered that she had Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Had it not been detected early on, Eileen would have had virtually no chance. Still, Eileen had to stare down the prospect of surgery, radiation treatment, and an unknowable outcome.

She was frightened but never alone. Eileen had the support of a large extended family, anchored by the rock in her life, her father, David Jurist. Until that point in his life, David was a busy, successful co-owner of a printing company, nurturing his seven children along with hundreds of employees. When Eileen fell ill, his life changed as well.

Eileen’s surgery and radiation treatments were a great success. Within seven months of the diagnosis, she was cured of lymphoma. Immediately following her last day of treatment, Eileen composed a letter to her father, which read, in part:

Eileen with son

Before all the time spent in the hospital, I don’t think I ever really knew what was really important in life. I guess some people never know. When you go through something like I did, all the things that seemed so important in the past end up to be very artificial. I hated what I went through, not ever knowing why it happened to me, and having to deal with being really scared for the first time of my life. But aside from all the bad I can really say that some of the happiest times I ever had were in my hospital room. Remember when we were all hysterical laughing in the corridor. My stomach was on the verge of bursting which made the thrill of laughing ever greater. And the day before your birthday, when we found out that the results of my surgery were negative, how we all held each other and cried. That is what it’s all about.

I wonder sometimes if you really know what you did for me. You say you do but I wonder if you know how much love I felt from you. It was like you went through every bit of it with me; like we were actually going through the fear and pain together. You made me want to handle things the way I imagine you would have – and I did. You once said to me – “I wish I could take all your pain and fears and spit them out, throw them away, but I can’t.” Dad, you did better than that – you made my pains and fears bearable. You taught me to get whatever good I could out of all the bad I went through.

I love you with all my heart.

Eileen in white dress

That powerful, life-affirming love and devotion that Eileen felt was a love that could not be contained. It was one that would go on to bring hope, love and joy to the lives of countless other children with cancer and their families.

Having lived through the wrenching, traumatic experience as Eileen’s parents, David and his wife Alice, Eileen’s step-mom, were lit with a new, special purpose. While jubilant over Eileen’s cure, they were also appalled by what was lacking in the spectrum of care for the child cancer patient and families. David and Alice joined the Tomorrows Children’s Fund (TCF) charity to make things better. They helped relocate TCF to an organization that embraced it – the Hackensack University Medical Center (HUMC). From there, driven by their love and compassion for Eileen and others going through the nightmare of cancer, the Jurists, along with their colleagues and supporters, spearheaded a sea of change in the world of cancer care. Through their efforts, the charity raised tens of millions of dollars, and just as important, raised millions of smiles.

In 1987, HUMC opened the Tomorrows Children’s Institute, dedicated to providing state-of-the-art cancer therapy. The Jurists, meanwhile, in addition to their fundraising efforts, became intimately involved with the children and their families, offering their personal love, warmth, and support. They also hosted the year’s signature event – a summer picnic at their New Jersey home, complete with games, rides, and entertainment, attended by a thousand exuberant and delighted children and parents, grateful for the pure opportunity to celebrate the normalcy of life and find some relief from the stress and anxiety of childhood cancer.

These incredibly good deeds culminated in May 2000 in the naming of the David and Alice Jurist Research Center for Tomorrows Children at HUMC. Eileen spoke at the dedication, and these were her words:

My name is Eileen. In 1984, I was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s disease. In 1985, I was free of it. That is such an amazing thing. If it had been 1684, or 1784, or 1884, no one would have known what my illness was, let alone understood how to cure it. And I wouldn’t be here today. But because of the incredible commitment of thousands of doctors, and researchers, and nurses, of donors, and volunteers and supporters, over decades before I was ever diagnosed, medical science in 1984 gave my doctors the resources to save my life. I say that for a specific reason. Because it is what makes my father’s unceasing, unrelenting, unyielding commitment to Tomorrows Children’s Fund so inspiring: It isn’t about me.

I don’t for a minute mean to diminish his love for me or his commitment to my well being – quite the contrary – I simply mean this: when he decided to focus his life on marshaling the resources to combat childhood disease, I was okay. So, of course, the love we have for one another got him started, but it is the awe-inspiring respect and understanding of the love every parent has for his or her child that keeps him going.

This is my father. Because he has lived his life determined not to just get whatever good there is, or to find whatever good there is, but to make all the good he can out of even the most difficult circumstances. I’d like to think that a little bit of my father will settle on this research center, so that the building itself will be endowed with the reassuring conviction of his constant will. If we can imagine the future we want, we can make it so. That, too, is my father. Those are words he lives by. So, in his honor, let us all resolve to do what we must for Tomorrows Children. The future we build together must never be constrained by the limits of today; it must be built on the hopes we have for tomorrow.

In the end, Eileen lost her personal battle, but ours has just begun—all of us who knew and loved her aim to defeat cancer through The Eileen Fund. The fund supports research into precision therapies that directly target the underlying causes of cancer, in order to cure it the first time and prevent its return in any form.