Our History

A friendship started a journey that continues today.

We can’t have a future without our past.

It started as a business relationship when Jim Coghlin, Sr., a successful business leader and generous philanthropist, met Mark Ungerer. Jim and Mark quickly became the closest of friends. When Mark watched his son battle leukemia, Jim felt his pain.

Mark’s son, David, was 15 when cancer took his life. Mark was motivated to lessen the impact cancer has on families, so he founded a golf tournament in Central Massachusetts to support cancer research and care. He ran it successfully for many years.

Then ten years after David died, Mark began treatment for cancer himself. A year before cancer took his life, Mark talked to Jim about the likelihood that he would die before him and asked Jim to run the tournament if that should happen. In 1995, Mark died and Jim made sure the golf tournament continued as an annual event and renamed it in Mark’s honor.

As the 10th anniversary of Mark’s death approached in 2005, Jim decided that he wanted a more permanent reminder of Mark. He met with leaders at a large academic cancer center and decided to establish a fellowship in Mark’s name to develop future leaders in an area of cancer care and research.

Mark Ungerer and Jim Coghlin – a powerful friendship

Jim added a catch – the fellowship had to be directed at a problem that needed attention but was receiving little. This was a reflection of how Mark used his energies in life. Karen Albritton, MD shared with Jim data illustrating the fact that improvements in cancer survival rates for teens and young adults, those aged 15 to 40, were not keeping pace with other age groups, and more alarmingly had barely improved since 1975. Dr. Albritton explained that there had not been a specific focus on this age group and it had “fallen through the cracks.”

Dr. Albritton explained that there had not been a specific focus on this age group and it had “fallen through the cracks.”

It wasn’t until 2002 that the data was first mined to prove this problem existed. Jim could not believe it and had a new mission in hand. With support of a close circle of friends and colleagues, the Mark Ungerer Fellowship was funded to train physicians specializing in adolescent and young adult cancers. The Mark & David Ungerer Golf Tournament, Gala and Auction took on a new focus as well. Proceeds were directed to adolescent & young adult oncology’s greatest needs (clinical care or research) as determined by the Chief Medical Officer.

Jim remained in contact with Dr. Albritton and kept abreast of advancements. It was Dr. Albritton who shared with Jim a report released jointly from the National Institutes of Health and the Livestrong Foundation. Dr. Albritton had been part of a Progress Review Group convened by these two organizations to study why cancer survival rates in this age group were not improving.

The report revealed that delayed diagnosis was a significant factor. Jim immediately thought “we can do something about that.” He understood that people needed to become aware that those in this age group do get cancer (more than 75,000/year in the US compared to 10,000/year for those under age 15) and about the impact of delayed diagnosis. To reduce the incidence of delayed diagnosis, people need to be able to answer “yes” to the question “Would you recognize a cancer symptom?”

To reduce the incidence of delayed diagnosis, people need to be able to answer “yes” to the question “Would you recognize a cancer symptom?”

Jim thought about who should build this awareness. He talked with the cancer center and asked them to build a program that would empower individuals with knowledge to help them recognize cancer symptoms as early as possible. A well-received series of meetings took place, but in the end the cancer center decided while it needed to be done, it could not add this mission to its focus on patient care and research.

Jim looked for an organization to support that was empowering teens and young adults with knowledge that could help them detect cancer at earlier stages. He hired a resource to help him search further. They found that there was not one. Jim talked to his family and they decided they needed to do something about this problem.

With the motivation to educate teens and young adults, it became clear that everyone can benefit from the life-saving advantage of early detection.

Together they founded 15-40 Connection.

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