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Mother’s Memory Inspires National Effort


Ann and David Fajgenbaum
Anne Marie Fajgenbaum and her son David

When David Fajgenbaum’s mother, Anne Marie, was diagnosed with a brain tumor a few years ago, he was an 18-year-old undergraduate at Georgetown University. Within a few months, she was gone. As he mourned his mother, David realized that counseling was not what he or many other grieving students were seeking; it was understanding from other students experiencing the same tragic loss. So David organized a support group. In a year, it grew into a nationwide organization: the National Students of AMF (deceased or “Ailing Mothers, Fathers,” or loved ones) Support Network.

As his mother’s health declined, David told her he was starting the organization in her memory. It bears her initials: Anne Marie Fajgenbaum.

“Even though there are counseling and psychiatric services on campuses, people who are grieving aren’t necessarily looking for someone to treat their grief,” David says. “They’re often looking for other students going through the same thing. It’s incredibly comforting to know you’re not the only one who’s going through loss. To see that others are getting through their lives while grieving is really helpful.”

He notes that college students, who are living away from home for the first time, truly need support: 38-45 percent of them have grieved the loss of a family member or other loved one from a terminal illness.

“College is supposed to be a happy time, and even good friends may not want to hear about such sad experiences,” David says. “I wish that no one needed support groups like this, and that everyone could be free to focus on their lives and their studies. But unfortunately, coping with grief is something a lot of students are going through.”

A Growing Network of Support

After his group got started, students from other colleges and universities started contacting him about starting chapters at their schools. Universities in Florida, Washington, Maryland and North Carolina were the first to start chapters of Students of AMF in 2006. David and friend Ben Chesson, who is in law school, established the nonprofit national organization.

Now there are 26 chapters, a Web siteexternal site an annual conference and two fund-raising events: the Boot Camp 2 Beat Cancer & Family Fun Walk and the AMF banquet.

David currently attends the University of Pennsylvania medical school and plans to become a surgical oncologist. He read the AICR expert report and feels it’s vital to get students to fight back against terminal illness by living healthy lives.

“Our organization has come a long way with a lot of support, and we’re hoping to work in partnership with AICR to raise awareness about cancer prevention.”

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