Susan Emanuelson, a grateful patient and passionate volunteer at the Palo Alto Medical Foundation, died peacefully at her Palo Alto home earlier this year at age 75.
For more than a decade, Susan helped answer guest questions on Level A of the Michael and Judith Gaulke Center in Palo Alto. Even while undergoing treatment for uterine cancer in 2018 and facing another serious health issue in 2020, she never missed a shift. In Susan's last act of dedication to PAMF, she quietly included the organization in her estate plan, designating $586,000 for cancer research.
"I am amazed and delighted by this kind and generous gift from Susan, a cheerful and bright presence in our department during her course of radiation therapy," says radiation oncologist Daniel Schiffner, M.D., who managed Susan's cancer treatment along with gynecologic oncologist Albert Pisani, M.D.
Her volunteer manager, Kelly Robutz, says Susan always felt like PAMF was her home. "She thought everything should look top-notch and would send me pictures if something needed attention," Kelly says.
"Susan knew so much about that Palo Alto clinic, and she even trained me for five or six days when I began managing the volunteers. That was so helpful because she knew every nook and cranny."
Deanna Bower, who shared the Level A volunteer desk with Susan for the last five years, describes shifts with her "work twin" as joyful and uplifting. "She was like a ray of sunshine coming in to volunteer, helping to make people's problems dissolve with her positive and uplifting attitude," Deanna says. "We could finish each other's sentences and worked together to help patients. She was the perfect patient advocate."
Jennifer Falk, M.D., Susan's primary care physician since she retired from Stanford University, was impressed that she knew each provider's name and department to help guide visitors seamlessly. She describes Susan as extremely independent and intelligent. "She was definitely a favorite patient of mine, and I was truly impressed with her commitment to making changes in her life that would improve her health, such as quitting smoking and losing weight," Dr. Falk adds.
Other members of Susan's care team also remember her colorful spirit and the beautiful beanies she wore to her radiation appointments. "She opened up a lot with us during our weekly check-ins, and it was an honor to be a part of her care and learn things about Susan outside of treatment," says Vuth Vann, R.N. Radiology colleague Sophia Mua, R.N., adds that "even in her last few days, Susan was appreciative and humbled. It was such a pleasure to care for her, and we are amazed by her gift."
Deanna recalls that following cancer treatments, Susan's hair was starting to grow back and she was enjoying her wigs. But then, approximately 18 months after completing radiation, she began having severe nosebleeds. Her doctors determined that her body was losing its ability to produce white blood cells, necessitating regular blood transfusions. Nevertheless, she kept up her volunteer commitment.
Although Susan honored her doctors with small philanthropic gifts to PAMF in 2018 and 2019, it still surprised everyone to learn she left a legacy gift of such magnitude.
"Community members continually amaze us with their generosity," says Shannon Brady, executive director of philanthropy at PAMF. "We only wish that our philanthropy team had known Susan before receiving this legacy gift so that we could have celebrated her generosity in person and the impact she will have on the community."