Agents of Change: A family tragedy spurs a fight to eradicate cancer
After New York City agent Inez Wade lost her brother to cancer, she started a research fund — and uses her real estate commissions to help grow it.
In 1990, Inez Wade was a stay-at-home-mom living in New York, and real estate was just about the furthest thing from her mind.
But then, tragedy struck. Her older brother, Stanley Grode, fell ill with acute myeloid leukemia, and within two months he died. "Basically, after he died, we were so devastated," Wade recalled. "I decided if I could spare one person his fate, I could better accept his loss. It was a way of coping with it if I could just help people."
A week after Grode's death, Wade and her husband, attorney Barry Wade, started the Stanley E. Grode Research Fund for Leukemia and Related Cancers at the Abramson Cancer Center of the University of Pennsylvania.
And Wade became a real estate agent as a way to help fund it. "I realized I had a feel for real estate," said Wade, an agent with the Corcoran Group.
Since starting the research fund 32 years ago, the Wades have helped change the face of cancer research at the Abramson Center, where researchers are developing new treatments for AML leukemia and other related blood cancer technologies.
The Wades haven't stopped with the original endowment. They supported the construction of the University of Pennsylvania's Perelman Center, which provides centralized care for patients, and in 2012, the Wades established the university's Solid Tumor Vaccine Research Fund, which tackles solid tumors by building upon the technology for treating blood cancers that have been developed.
The Solid Tumor Vaccine Research Fund came about after "a very large [real estate] deal," Wade said. "I took that commission, and we started the fund."
Wade's philanthropic endeavors, along with those of many other substantial donors, are seeing tangible results, including 20 U.S. Food and Drug Administration approvals for new cancer treatments.
The first of those was CAR-T, a therapy that trains a patient's T cells to attack their blood cancer cells. More than 15,000 people have been treated with this therapy, including Emily Whitehead, a 7-year-old who in 2012 was the first pediatric patient to receive the treatment. She's now 10 years cancer-free, and her father has nothing but praise for Wade and her philanthropic endeavors.
Wade is "a great friend who also makes a difference every day with helping more people survive their cancer," said Whitehead, co-founder of the Emily Whitehead Foundation. "I personally know a child who received radiation therapy to survive his brain cancer, and Inez and her family's contributions made that possible. She is a relentless worker and one of the most altruistic people I have ever met."
Wade said she was "absolutely" raised to give back to others, pointing to a caption on her mother's high-school graduation photo, where she quoted William Penn. "She wrote, 'If there is any kindness or any good thing I can do to my fellow beings, let me do it now,'" Wade said. "That's the way I was raised."
And that's the way she works, too, joining Corcoran a little over three years ago because the company's "culture was consistent with my values," said Wade, who has won the Real Estate Board of New York's Deal of the Year award.
Wade's goal is to eradicate the cancer that took her brother's life and to help others, too. "It's been an ambitious effort to try to make a difference," Wade said. "Other than my husband, whom I married at 19, and my children and family, this is the most important thing in my life. And real estate has enabled me to do it. It's been an extraordinary career, and I've met some amazing people."