Maureen Dembski

My day job is senior director of development at UW Foundation. I’ve been with the UW Foundation since 1998. I started in an administrative role, eventually moved into regional development work and am now involved with the Carbone Cancer Center.

I feel so lucky to represent the University of Wisconsin and to be involved with the Carbone Cancer Center. We have a strong history of innovation and have had some amazing directors throughout our history.

The Center is named after Paul Carbone. Paul was a great champion for women and had a great deal of influence on the therapies used to treat breast cancer today. It’s because of his efforts that we moved away from the radical mastectomies that were once so common.

The Center is also known for its work in prostate cancer due to the efforts of another former director, George Wilding, who is world renowned for his work in this area.

One of the most important ways Carbone Cancer Center sets itself apart is by functioning as a hub. We’re part of the school of medicine and public health, but we work with almost every school and college on the UW campus. We prioritize collaboration and it’s not uncommon for our researchers to work with people from a broad cross section of departments. On any given day you’ll see grad students, scientists, physicians and patients. All working together.

When I talk with people who are new to our campus, that’s one of the first things they comment on—that they’ve never seen the level of collaboration they find at UW. Having all these elements of treatment under one roof is unusual and many other cancer centers look to us and have adopted this model.

A lot of the credit for this structure goes to George and to former Wisconsin governor, Tommy Thompson. They saw the value of this model early on.

Two exciting things that are currently happening: Our advances in clinical trials—which have happened in large part because of the efforts of our current director, Dr. Howard Bailey—and our work in precision medicine. This leverages research related to the human genome and allows us to create individual treatments.

A story I like to tell in this area came out of the lab of Dr. Dusty Deming. Dusty was working with a patient who had colon cancer and had tried every possible treatment—she had no other options left. Dusty took a tumor sample and started testing treatment options on it. He suggested going back to her very first treatment method. Dusty believed her cancer had mutated to the point where that treatment would work and it did.

Those are just two of the many amazing things happening at the Carbone Cancer Center every day.

My most memorable caffeine was the Blue Mountain coffee my husband and I had at a resort in Jamaica. The way they serve it is excellent: they add raw sugar and a little condensed milk and it’s delicious. Jamaica is such a beautiful place. We’ve been there many times, including one visit after a hurricane. Even in the midst of the upheaval there was such a sense of life and making the best of things.

My current caffeine of choice is typically a plain coffee. Sometimes I’ll have an iced coffee but that about as far as I go. I’m not into fancy coffee.

My favorite place for caffeine is typically the Starbucks at Target. I get a cup of coffee and walk around the store for exercise. I really like how communities of every size now have a nice coffee shop. It’s a great place to see your neighbors!

The person I’d love to share a cup of caffeine with is my great, great grandmother. Family legend is that she was the nanny to the Empress Elisabeth of Bavaria who married the Emperor Franz Joseph, of Austria-Hungary. She was known as “Sisi.”

My grandmother was born in St. Petersburg, Russia and went to medical school. My mother used to have this very simple, worn piece of paper which was the certificate from her school. Apparently “Sisi” gave my great, great grandmother a bag of uncut jewels and told her, “Go to America.” My grandmother did and ended up in Joillet, Illinois where she bought an apartment building.

I’ve tried to learn more but haven’t been successful. I’d love to sit down with her and hear that story.

World problem that could be solved with the right amount of caffeine: finding a new large donor to sponsor the cancer center. The University of Michigan recently received a $150 million donation. Think what we could accomplish with that level of investment!