Now entering his 40th year in banking, Jeff serves as the senior vice president and professional banking team leader at Oregon Pacific Bank in the newly established Eugene Professional Banking and Trust Office. Jeff works to procure new clients in niche markets. The position is ready-made for him as he spent much of his career working in a similar capacity at the former Siuslaw Bank. It’s also been a good fit because Jeff is by nature a people person. He enjoys the relationships he builds with his clients, helping their businesses grow and their dreams become a reality.
In addition to his banking milestone, Jeff is also celebrating 30 years of marriage with his wife, Susan. Together they have two kids, Sander, a playwright in New York City, and Alex, a budtender (Google it if you must). Jeff jokes, “I can’t say my kids don’t think outside the box.”
Outside of work and family, Jeff is, as the Eugene Register Guard put it, the “Poster Guy” for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society (LLS). That label, in part, stems from a national LLS ad campaign which featured Jeff and eight other blood cancer survivors. But the main reason for that label, one would argue, is Jeff’s extraordinary work to raise money for lymphoma research.
It was 10 years ago that Jeff was diagnosed with follicular lymphoma, a blood cancer and the most common slow-growing form of non-Hodgkin lymphoma. He was referred to OHSU where they recommended he receive 21 radiation treatments, in hopes of halting the spread of the blood cancer. Jeff opted to forgo chemotherapy and other treatments after his initial radiation therapies, a decision his doctor, Jeff Sharman, thinks is a good one.
While the life expectancy for someone diagnosed with follicular lymphoma may exceed 10 years, it’s not uncommon to see even longer term survivors, according to Dr. Sharman, who also serves as the director of research at Willamette Valley Cancer Institute in Eugene and as the medical director of hematology research at the US Oncology Network.
It happens that Dr. Sharman is not only the first blood cancer specialist in the Eugene area, but also a leading researcher. Dr. Sharman views Jeff as an inspiration to other patients living with follicular lymphoma. “Having a favorable disease course and being very public about his disease has helped many to understand that this does not need to represent a 'death sentence' but instead an opportunity to choose how somebody wants to live,” stated Dr. Sharman.
Jeff describes his cancer as one that waxes and wanes. He gets scans every year and follows a “watch and wait” approach. Treatment for his lymphoma isn’t needed until it becomes more aggressive, which can take many years, as it has in Jeff’s case. For him, that is the exciting part, “The longer I can wait, the more likely it is that an exciting new protocol will be available. Gene therapy is just around the corner,” states Jeff.
Jeff has made a conscious decision to enjoy life to the fullest. As he puts it, he doesn’t know when his cancer is going to catch up to him, so he says “yes” to everything. Before his diagnosis, the only family trips he’d ever taken were to Disneyland and Wisconsin. Today, Jeff boasts an impressive resume of travel excursions: he’s walked the Great Wall in China, played with wild monkeys in Bali, snorkeled in Mexico, attended an opera in Florence (Italy), prayed at the Wailing Wall, motorcycled through Barcelona, walked the ruins of Pompeii, saw the Pope in St. Mark’s Square, looked down at Athens from the Acropolis, stood on the track of the first Olympics, and saw the Beatles show in Las Vegas.
By now, you might be getting the picture that Jeff is not someone to rest on one’s laurels. Instead, he is taking life by the reins. “I definitely appreciate my life more,” states Jeff. “I don’t wait for things to happen, I make them happen. I don’t have the luxury of waiting around anymore. Professionally, that can make me a pain for my employer at times, but it’s great for my clients. Personally, my wife loves it. She gets a husband that wants to fly off on vacation at the drop of a hat and one that still does the dishes, just like before.”
Jeff’s overwhelmingly positive, can-do attitude feeds the success he has achieved through his annual Light the Grill fundraiser benefiting the Oregon chapter of the national Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. The idea for Light the Grill came to Jeff seven years ago while attending a local LLS dinner. The speaker at the dinner challenged those in attendance to make a difference. It was then that he came up with the concept of a barbeque fundraiser. Light the Grill attracts hundreds of attendees each year and has become an annual tradition, complete with lunch, live music, a silent auction and raffle prizes donated by local businesses, many of whom are Jeff’s clients. The donations range from conventional to unusual. As Jeff states, “We get a little of everything, from a $10 coffee gift card to a trip to Mexico, with a vasectomy or two thrown in for good measure.”
Light the Grill is always held on a Friday afternoon in September, which is Blood Cancer Awareness Month. Funds are raised through a small fee for lunch and from the proceeds of the silent auction and raffle tickets. In total, Jeff’s Light the Grill event has raised $176,326 for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. And in the last two years, Jeff has raised more money for LLS than any other individual in Oregon. Of course, Jeff admits he can’t take all the credit. Oregon Pacific Bank has been a major financial sponsor and has provided volunteers from the bank to work the event. The bank's marketing director, Ellen Huntingdon, has been a big help, as has Jeanette Beard, who has worked with Jeff dating back to the Siuslaw years and who helps coordinate the event.
Jeff, as you may have guessed, is not shy about discussing his illness. “It helps me to be upfront,” states Jeff. “I feel a definite espirit de corps with others in the community who are helping me fight this disease: my doctors, family, friends, and other patients. We’re all fighting this together.” His transparency with his illness has led him to become a resource for support and information to others who have been recently diagnosed with the disease. “Fortunately, I’ve been on this journey longer than most and I appreciate any opportunity to be a resource to the community,” states Jeff.
Jeff’s message is simple: don’t wait. “When it came to pursuing my dreams I’d always say, I’ll do it tomorrow. But I got cancer before tomorrow came. So do your job with integrity and passion and meet the needs of your clients. But when you walk through the door to go home, follow your dreams. I was lucky enough to learn that lesson before it was too late. Some aren’t so lucky.”
You can support Jeff and his cause by coming to Light the Grill on September 8th from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Alton Baker Park in Eugene, or by donating an item for the silent auction or raffle. For more information, contact Jeff at (458) 210-2010 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit www.lightthegrill.org.