"It was the first week of December 2006, and I had a brain seizure while Christmas shopping in downtown Minneapolis,” says Mike Givens of the first time he was diagnosed with oligodendroglioma, a form of brain cancer.
“I had a tumor on the left side of my brain removed and was fortunate not to need chemotherapy or radiation,” says Givens. “An annual MRI in November 2012 revealed the cancer had returned, on the right side. Normally you can’t have surgery on both sides of the brain because it’s so risky. A friend of mine who’d been successfully treated at MD Anderson recommended I go there since they were ‘the best in the world.’”
Mark Gilbert, M.D., professor in Neuro-Oncology, recommended chemotherapy for Givens. When the tumor continued to grow, he introduced him to neurosurgeon Nicholas Levine, M.D., who strategically removed the tumor.
“I owe these guys my life,” says Givens. “I wanted to give back and show my appreciation by supporting their research and offer hope for future brain cancer patients.”
Givens called his close friend, Laird Small, director of the Pebble Beach Golf Academy, who had lost a family member to brain cancer. That conversation eventually led to the inaugural Pebble Beach Charity Classic Golf Tournament in March, which raised $125,000 to support brain cancer research at MD Anderson.
“I’m moved and energized by Mike and his wife, Linda, who take time to raise funds to support our research programs,” says Gilbert. “We use these funds to jump-start innovative programs that explore new cancer treatments and evaluate their impact on patient function and quality of life, important considerations for these new treatments.”
Giving back is a core value Givens adopted almost 20 years ago when inspired by the philanthropic spirit of a close business associate, Dave Thomas, founder of the Wendy’s Company and the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption.
“Probably one of the most memorable times of my life was when Dave came up to me, threw his arm around me and asked me to sit on the board of his foundation. Since then, we’ve raised more than $10 million. I hope to do the same for MD Anderson.”
Being open about his brain cancer is another way Givens gives back.
“Mike is candid about his condition,” says Levine. “This allows him to increase the understanding of those around him, the ability to help others diagnosed with brain tumors and, ultimately, make every patient’s life better.”