How Friendship Led to Monumental Support for Cancer Research

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Ali Jassim and Manizheh Yomtoubian It’s all about family–and friendship. Jonsson Cancer Center Foundation Board members Manizheh “Mani” Yomtoubian and Ali Jassim have known each other for decades and in that time discovered that they share a strong commitment to giving back and a profound desire to stop cancer in its tracks.

Over the 18 years that Mani was a nurse at UCLA’s Medical Center she watched Ali grow up, as she was frequently a guest in the Jassim family home. Whenever there was an occasion deserving of celebration, Ali’s mother, Heshmat, gathered family and friends to do just that. Celebrate. 

She had learned early on how precious life is. Her brother, Ali’s uncle, died of brain cancer more than 40 years ago. Also known for always being the first to offer help, Heshmat raised her brother’s children alongside Ali and his siblings, Neda and Mohammad.  These charitable lessons of family and commitment were not lost on young Ali.

In the ensuing years, Ali became a successful international businessman and Mani established a foundation in memory of her husband Neria that she recently renamed the Iranian American Cancer Association to reflect her goal of encouraging her friends and other Iranian Americans to talk about cancer–a crucial first step.

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At a recent Jassim family wedding, Mani and Ali’s talks turned to philanthropy once again with Ali stepping forward and joining Mani to support the fight against cancer, and committing to the treatment advances being made at UCLA’s Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center (JCCC).

Ali’s commitment is so deep, and heartfelt, that he is the first donor to name a suite of research laboratories in the newly-reconfigured Center for Health Sciences (CHS), in honor of his family. In addition, Ali’s $10 million commitment will create the UCLA Ali Jassim Family Cancer Research Program to fund highest priority cancer research as determined by the JCCC Director. This gift could not have come at a better time as a search is underway for a new JCCC Director to succeed Dr. Judith C. Gasson who led the JCCC for the last 20 years and retired in September 2015.

Coincidentally, the Ali Jassim Family Cancer Research Suite is located on the fifth floor of the CHS—the very place where his dear friend Mani finished her UCLA nursing career. Call it what you will—fate, karma, coincidence—Mani and Ali’s connection to each other will thrive at UCLA as well.

And they have a message for others. Mani’s advice is clear: “Don’t be afraid to talk about a cause that you think is important,” she says. “Most of the time you can find people who sympathize with your cause. Friends can follow the steps of the person that they believe is doing something important.”