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25 For Research: Phil Passafiume

July 1, 2021

Phil Passafiume has always felt that breast cancer researchers “do God’s work,” but never felt it more strongly than after his wife Leslie was diagnosed with breast cancer in the early-2000s.

“It came out of left field,” said Passafiume, who works at Protective Life as Chief Investment Officer. “She was extremely healthy and had no family history of breast cancer. We had never had to deal with cancer on either side of our family. It came out of nowhere.”

At the time, Phil was working a demanding job with more hours than usual, while also trying to spend as much time with his family as he could – especially with his young daughter, who was in elementary school. Everything came grinding to a halt when Leslie was diagnosed.

As she began treatment, Phil frequently found himself nervous, watching his partner go through an experience that he had little control over.

“I was definitely a little frightened and uncertain about the future,” said Passafiume. “I just kept thinking, ‘how can I take care of my daughter?’”

Leslie’s treatment began with a lumpectomy, then radiation, having been given assurance from the doctors that she would be “all-clear” after the completion of the treatment. Years later, however, another abnormality was found, prompting Leslie to undergo a full mastectomy, which was a bumpy road in itself. Despite the hardships, however, Phil maintains that his family made it through the experience thanks to the competence of the medical team that surrounded his wife.

That’s why, when he took a meeting with representatives from the Breast Cancer Research Foundation of Alabama through the Protective Life Foundation, he knew he wanted to get involved in the mission.

“We talked about my history, as well as what they were doing, and I said, ‘Man, this is a great organization. I want to help you guys out. If you ever have any board openings, I’d be happy to do it.’ A few months later, I was on the board.”

Today, Passafiume serves as vice president of the BCRFA board of directors, helping to drive funding for breast cancer research and raising awareness across the state. In his opinion, the most fulfilling part of working with the BCRFA is watching the progress accomplished by the many scientists that the organization supports.

“You watch these researchers – the motivation, the determination and the optimism they have…it’s incredible. They’re constantly making strides,” said Passafiume. “Every dollar that goes to our researchers is maximized by federal and national grants. It’s a 14-to-1 return. Where else can you get that kind of impact?”

As he serves on the board, Phil also places a special emphasis on support of partners who are watching loved ones go through breast cancer, as his own experience stays close in his mind as he watches others. His advice for them? Stay positive and have faith.Phil's Golf Team

“Stand back and stay strong. As a father and as a husband, you have to be optimistic and keep positive thoughts. Really, take it day by day.”

Outside of his personal experience, Phil maintains that helping fund research is something that should be universally supported. As one in eight women and one in 1,000 men are diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetimes, he knows better than most that it can impact anyone’s life at any time.

“Supporting research is the right thing to do,” said Passafiume. “You’re helping people that you don’t even know. It’s good for all of us.”

Have a story to share about breast cancer research? Visit our 25 for Research portal to share your story or nominate someone today.

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