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Ken Steinback

A Return on Investment for Lymphoma Patients

I’m a business guy who looks for a return on my investment. Hopefully, the investment from the Steinback Fund will foster significant research leading to either new cures or innovations for non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

Ken Steinback has only a hazy memory of his first meeting with Nancy Bartlett, MD, a prominent Washington University School of Medicine oncologist at Barnes-Jewish Hospital. After all, their first face-to-face encounter was under horrible circumstances. Just 11 months after believing he was in remission from lymphoma, Ken learned the disease had returned.

“I was so nervous and depressed when I met Dr. Bartlett. I was convinced that I was going to die,” Ken says. “I always tell people with cancer to take someone with you to your appointments because you won’t process anything the doctor says.”

While he might not remember much about Dr. Bartlett from that initial appointment 18 years ago, Ken’s current vision of her is crystal clear. Thanks to Dr. Bartlett and her team at The Alvin J. Siteman Cancer Center, Ken is now in remission after three bouts of an aggressive form of non-Hodgkin lymphoma that started with his first diagnosis in 2000.

“Nancy started out as my physician and has now become my friend. I’m here because of her,” Ken says. “She could ask me to jump off the Empire State Building and I probably would consider it!”

Non-Hodgkin lymphoma is a cancer that starts in white blood cells called lymphocytes, which are part of the body’s immune system. These cancerous cells can travel and form tumors in many areas of the body, including the lymph nodes, spleen, bone marrow, blood, or other organs.

Ken’s personal experience led him and his wife, Marilyn, to establish The Kenneth B. Steinback Cancer Research Fund, which was formally launched at The Foundation for Barnes-Jewish Hospital in 2008. The purpose of the fund is to provide the financial resources needed for Dr. Bartlett and her team to lead innovative lymphoma research.

“I’m a business guy who looks for a return on my investment,” Ken says. “Hopefully, the investment from the Steinback Fund will foster significant research leading to either new cures or innovations for non-Hodgkin lymphoma.”

Since the inception of the Steinback fund, 313 donors have given and/or pledged a total of more than $1,439,000 through 733 individual gifts. The total includes gifts from Ken, who has also donated his time to help elevate medical research and patient care by serving on the board of trustees of the Foundation, which he chaired from 2008 to 2012. He continues his involvement as an emeritus member.

“It gives me great pleasure to give to an important cause,” Ken says. “It’s especially true in my case. Dr. Bartlett gave me 18 years of my life and counting.”

Ken is the founder and former chairman of St. Louis-based CSI Leasing, Inc., one of the world’s largest independent equipment leasing companies. He was 57 and the head of the company when his battle against cancer began. The lymphoma’s aggressiveness made the journey an arduous one, marked by challenging chemotherapy treatments and a difficult stem cell transplant. But today, Ken’s follow-up appointments are relatively easy and short. At most, he might wait 35 to 45 minutes for Dr. Bartlett to walk into the examination room but he doesn’t mind.

“If she keeps me waiting, I know that she has another patient who needs her attention more than I do at the moment. She is so special and attentive to the needs of each patient.”

Dr. Bartlett is indeed special. In addition to the compassionate and knowledgeable care she provides her patients, Dr. Bartlett, the Koman Chair of Medical Oncology, has directed the lymphoma research and treatment program at Siteman and Barnes-Jewish Hospital for more than 20 years. The program is considered a national leader in clinical trials aimed at evaluating new approaches in lymphoma treatment.

Support from the Steinback Fund is playing a significant role in the ability of Dr. Bartlett and her team to conduct leading-edge studies that will provide a much deeper understanding of the causes of lymphoma; a basis for placing patients in clinical studies based on their mutation profiles; and new targets for drug development.

In 2018, Ken, along with Bob Virgil and Bill Koman, who are also patients of Dr. Bartlett, launched a fundraising initiative to support early stage research being led by Dr. Bartlett and her team. This research will be instrumental in advancing understanding of the progression and treatment of lymphoma. The important resources raised will also help attract additional scientists who can accelerate and expand the promising projects underway.

Studies that will take knowledge and treatment to the next level include those that are aimed at developing new strategies to augment immune response to lymphoma; identifying recurrent mutations that predict response to chemotherapy-free approaches; and identifying potential targets for tumor specific vaccines.

"I believe with adequate support, our team is poised to make very important contributions toward these lofty goals,” Dr. Bartlett says.

In addition to helping further this research, Ken says gifts to the Fund support a cause that’s very important to Dr. Bartlett and he thinks there is no better way to show appreciation for her work.

“We need to support medical research or the quality of medicine will diminish. Not only will the quality go down, but we won’t have the growth, new enhancements, or advanced therapies and surgeries.” Adding another important point, he says, “If we don’t support clinicians and researchers, we won’t keep the best physicians, and we want the best.”