Greg Stubblefield described himself as the luckiest guy in the world. Over his 37-year career at Enterprise Holdings Inc., he became one of the most successful and influential leaders in the company’s history and a mentor to many. Though he was an accomplished businessman, he is most remembered by those who knew him for his commitment, optimism, kindness and willingness to lend a helping hand. In fact, his impact and presence were so large that when he passed away in late August, Enterprise flew its company flags at half-staff to honor his memory.
Greg fought his cancer in the same manner in which he lived his life—with grace and perseverance. Throughout his battle, it was this mindset that carried him through and served as an inspiration to all who knew him. He used his battle as an opportunity to learn and pave a brighter path for future patients, leaving behind a legacy that will transform the way head and neck cancers are treated—and ultimately save more lives.
Greg was known for his determined, innovative and visionary approach to business—an approach that carried him through the company ranks to the highest levels of leadership. When he was diagnosed with cancer in his jaw three years ago, which came back in late 2019, his approach was no different. He put all he had into the fight—and inspired everyone around him to join him in advancing research to help future generations of head and neck cancer patients.
Head and neck cancer, an umbrella term for cancers that arise primarily from the mouth, throat and voice box, account for only 5 percent of cancer diagnoses, but they have a dramatic impact on quality of life. These cancers affect some of the most basic functions of daily life, and their location along with the extensive and aggressive treatments they require often mean patients must relearn how to eat, talk and swallow.
Though Siteman Cancer Center offers many effective treatments for cancers like Greg’s, treatments and survival rates haven’t changed significantly in the last 40 years.
Even as Greg fought cancer, he and his wife, Nancy, were inspired to change this statistic and move the needle on the progress toward a cure. They created the Greg Stubblefield and Nancy Apel Stubblefield Head & Neck Cancer Innovation Fund at The Foundation for Barnes-Jewish Hospital.
After speaking and strategizing with leading head and neck cancer physicians at Barnes-Jewish Hospital and Washington University School of Medicine where Greg was receiving treatment, the couple decided the fund would support early stage research that accelerates innovation by ensuring the availability of financial resources for physician-scientists to explore new and better therapies for this devastating disease.
“We are inspired and humbled by Greg and Nancy Stubblefield’s generosity and trust in our faculty to leverage the significant scientific and clinical strengths of our institution to work toward a cure for head and neck cancer,” says Craig Buchman, MD, FACS, Lindburg Professor and Head, Department of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery, Washington University School of Medicine.
“Mr. Stubblefield’s generosity has led to a new, multidisciplinary research effort in head and neck cancer at Siteman Cancer Center,” adds Jose Zevallos, MD, MPH, FACS, Chief, Head and Neck Oncologic Surgery, Washington University School of medicine. “This will result in an acceleration of discoveries by allowing our researchers to take the kinds of risks that lead to breakthroughs. His courageous fight against head and neck cancer continues to inspire us in the clinic, in the operating room, and in the laboratory.”
The fund also serves as a catalyst to encourage others to make similar investments. In early 2020, Nancy and Greg co-hosted a small event with fellow grateful patient Joe Koenig and his wife Kim to raise awareness and support for the cause. After the event, Greg’s closest friends and colleagues were inspired to lead an initiative to garner more investments in research that would help Greg and patients like him. An inner circle of Greg’s closest friends and colleagues reached out to their personal and professional networks with a goal of raising $1 million to accelerate innovative head and neck cancer research being led at Barnes-Jewish Hospital and Washington University.
The response was swift. Inspired by Greg’s personal cancer journey and unwavering commitment to drive change, many people from across the country called the Foundation office personally to make their gifts. Within just 30 days, they surpassed their fundraising goal even amid the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, a testament to the mark Greg left on those around him.
Whether you’re a survivor of head and neck cancer, or one of the many friends, family members, loved ones and supporters affected by this disease, we all have the same goal: to further research and eventually find a cure for head and neck cancer.
Immediate philanthropic investment is critical to altering the trajectory of this disease. The availability of such resources significantly accelerates the movement of science to clinical care, extending and saving lives. New knowledge yields greater hope for the many other patients fighting this battle.
Greg’s life impacted so many and his legacy lives on in all that he accomplished in his career, in his beloved wife and daughters Nicole and Lauren, and in all of the promising research made possible through his fund.