Dr. Marilyn Seskin’s determination — and her generosity — set the bar high in the fight against gynecologic cancers
By Priyanka Sinha
Photographs of Marilyn Seskin, M.D., courtesy of Diana Ronell, Ph.D.
Photographs of Matthew P. Schlumbrecht, M.D., M.P.H., by Sonya Revell
arilyn Seskin, M.D., was certain that, within 10 years of her diagnosis, scientists would find the cure for her rare form of ovarian cancer. For three years at Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, she courageously battled the disease, enduring five courses of different chemotherapies and four surgeries, looking for a solution until the very end.
Dr. Seskin succumbed to her illness, 14 weeks shy of her 70th birthday, in 2019. While she didn’t live long enough to benefit from new discoveries, Dr. Seskin’s dying wish was that no woman should ever have to suffer the way she did. True to her word, she bequeathed $1.2 million to Sylvester for efforts dedicated to eradicating gynecologic cancers.
Marilyn Seskin, M.D.
Science will find the cure
As a retired anesthesiologist, Dr. Seskin firmly believed in science. She pursued research to understand her disease and find the cure.
“Marilyn tried to use her medical training to find the source of her illness,” said Bob Sugarman, her husband of 15 years. “She believed there was an answer to every question, and there was a source of every illness. You just had to do the research, from basic science and up, to find the answers.”
In addition to research, Dr. Seskin clearly understood the need for a nationally recognized cancer center in South Florida. She was grateful for her care at Sylvester and believed that Miami — as a major, metropolitan city — needed world-class health care and an elite cancer program.
“Marilyn saw the importance of talent and medical education in creating an environment where distinctive research could flourish and where patients experienced better outcomes,” Sugarman said.
Dr. Seskin’s belief in Sylvester was further reinforced by its receiving National Cancer Institute designation in 2019 under the leadership of Stephen D. Nimer, M.D., director of Sylvester and the Oscar de la Renta Endowed Chair in Cancer Research.
“That was a big step for Marilyn,” Sugarman recalled. “If you get seriously ill, you shouldn’t have to go somewhere else for world-class care. We became familiar with Sylvester’s vision and experienced the brilliance of Dr. Nimer.”
A legacy that will save lives
Matthew P. Schlumbrecht, M.D., M.P.H., interim chief of the Division of Gynecologic Oncology at the Miller School and co-director of Cancer Control and Prevention for Gynecologic Oncology at Sylvester.
Dr. Seskin’s bequest will support the Dr. Marilyn Seskin Gynecologic Oncology Clinic at Sylvester. A fund in her name, the Dr. Marilyn Seskin Gynecologic Cancer Research Fund, has already received more than $62,000 in additional contributions made in her honor by friends and family.
“Dr. Seskin’s gift will be invaluable to Sylvester across key areas of impact — education, research, and patient care,” said Matthew P. Schlumbrecht, M.D., M.P.H., interim chief of the Division of Gynecologic Oncology at the Miller School and co-director of Cancer Control and Prevention for Gynecologic Oncology at Sylvester. He added that the bequest will foster professional development, provide seed money for innovative clinical trials in gynecologic oncology, and address health disparities in cancer treatment and prevention for minority women.
“We couldn’t do without the generosity of donors like Dr. Seskin,” Dr. Schlumbrecht said. “Her legacy will improve, if not save, the lives of women who are fighting gynecologic cancers. It allows us to support investigator-initiated clinical trials that are started and run by Sylvester clinicians. We’ll be able to test new promising investigational therapies, including the use of immunotherapy agents across different disease sites.”
Dr. Schlumbrecht also recognized the impact of Dr. Seskin’s generosity in cancer care and prevention for underrepresented communities.
Dr. Seskin’s quest for a career in helping others first started at The City College of New York (CCNY), where she pursued bachelor’s and master’s degrees in psychology, only to graduate in the late 1970s, during a recession, when jobs for psychologists were limited. Encouraged by a friend who recognized her passion for medicine, Dr. Seskin went back to CCNY to get the credits she needed to be accepted to medical school.
“She already had a master’s degree in psychology,” Sugarman noted. “But Marilyn persevered in every aspect of her life. She enrolled in the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in her beloved New York City and got her medical degree.”
Dr. Seskin went on to do her internship at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Jersey, completed her anesthesiology residency back at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, became a board-certified anesthesiologist, and came to South Florida to begin her practice at hospitals in Aventura and Ft. Lauderdale.
Dr. Seskin also directed a portion of her estate to CCNY to provide scholarships for first-generation college students and support a new post-baccalaureate program for liberal arts graduates. She also established a scholarship fund at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, which will name a conference room in her honor, and she directed funds to support gynecological cancer research at two additional cancer centers — MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston and the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston.
Before her diagnosis, Dr. Seskin was an outdoor enthusiast. She cycled 15 to 30 miles a day with a Broward County cycling club and hiked with Sugarman in national parks around the world. From scuba diving on the Great Barrier Reef in Australia to diving with whale sharks off the coast of Belize with Sugarman, Dr. Seskin enjoyed an adventure and the ability to stretch herself through play and practice.
“She was dedicated and persevered to the end,” Sugarman said. “When she was passionate about something, work or leisure, she was all in.”
Dr. Seskin was also dedicated to family, particularly her parents. As they faced the decline of old age, she turned their Delray Beach apartment, in which they had lived for 30 years, into a nursing home, supported by a small, round-the-clock staff of care providers she managed.
“Marilyn was devoted to her loved ones and generous to the end,” said Sugarman. “I want her to be remembered for that generosity and for her quest — her personal search for a cure — and her unflagging faith in science as she fiercely fought what she knew so well was a terminal disease.
“I want her life and her generosity to inspire other people,” he added. “Her gift to Sylvester permits her work and her belief in the power of research to be carried on even after she has left us, right here at the cancer center where she fought her final battle.”
The bequest Marilyn has provided through her estate plan is the most popular and tangible way to leave a lasting impact on the Miller School of Medicine and UHealth. With many giving options, the staff of the Office of Estate and Gift Planning can help you find the right charitable vehicle that matches your financial circumstances and fulfills your philanthropic goals.