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From loss to legacy: UTSW cancer researcher’s tragic death inspires family to establish chair in her honor

Arindam Roy and his late wife, Sarmistha Sen, are pictured here with their children during a family vacation. Ms. Sen, a cancer researcher for the Department of Radiation Oncology, was killed in August near her home in Plano.

On Aug. 1, Arindam Roy’s life tragically changed forever. His wife, Sarmistha Sen, a cancer researcher in UT Southwestern’s Department of Radiation Oncology, left for her customary early-morning jog. She never returned.

Police found her body later that morning. The 43-year-old had been attacked and killed on a trail not far from the Plano home she shared with her husband and two sons.

The next morning, hours after his family’s lives were shattered, Mr. Roy began the healing process.

His wife’s story was covered by the local media and people were starting to reach out, asking what they could do to help. Working to make sure something positive came out of this unspeakable tragedy, Mr. Roy set up an online fundraising campaign for charities devoted to issues that Ms. Sen deeply cared about, including cancer awareness, cancer research, and healthy living.

What began as a humble remembrance to honor his wife of 16 years led to an overwhelming response from colleagues, family, friends, and the general public. In total, 683 people contributed to the effort that raised $50,000 – far more than the family ever anticipated.

 “This fundraising effort may have been an important first step for all of us to recover from such a terrible tragedy,” Mr. Roy said. “It became a truly beautiful community response.”

He was so moved that he matched the total with funds from his own savings. He donated the gifts to UT Southwestern to create the Sarmistha Sen Chair in Radiation Oncology. UT Southwestern also contributed institutional funds to the new endowment.

 “This gift holds special significance for our UT Southwestern family,” said Dr. Daniel K. Podolsky, President of UT Southwestern. “Sarmistha Sen devoted her life’s work to clinical research that advanced our understanding of cancer. Because of the generosity of so many, that work will continue here and be forever associated with her legacy.”

The endowment will be invested by UT Southwestern, and only part of the interest earnings will be spent each year, enabling the fund to grow over time. Distributions will support the endowed chair holder’s clinical research activities in radiation oncology.

A passion for cancer research

Mr. Roy, who is Vice President of Product Management with the E.F. Johnson Co. in Irving, confessed he had a hard time understanding the complexities of his wife’s work.

“But I never underestimated her passion for cancer research and her devotion to her colleagues and UT Southwestern as a whole,” he said.

A native of Sindri, India, Ms. Sen was an avid gardener and trained singer of Indian classical music. A graduate of UT Dallas and the University of Alabama at Birmingham, she was a pharmacist and researcher who studied molecular biology. Her family inspired her commitment to cancer research and treatment.

“Her own mother was a breast cancer survivor, so her work hit very close to home for her,” Mr. Roy said.

Dr. Hak Choy hired Ms. Sen to direct clinical research in UT Southwestern’s Department of Radiation Oncology.

“From the start, I found her to be one of the kindest, most caring, and thoughtful people you’d ever meet in our field,” said Dr. Choy, the Department’s Chairman and a Professor of Radiation Oncology.

Ms. Sen, respected and beloved, had a devotion to the Department where she worked for almost four years that often extended beyond the workday.

As a clinician, what impressed him most was Ms. Sen’s ability to collect and analyze all manner of clinical trial data from patients.

“She brought such care and compassion to her work,” Dr. Choy said. “From the moment she arrived, the amount of clinical research we were able to do grew considerably.”

When asked about the impact that the Sen Chair will make on the Department, Dr. Choy was heartfelt in his response: “We are very grateful to Ms. Sen’s family,” he said. “While grieving the loss of a loved one, they wanted to support clinical research in memory of Ms. Sen.”

Such generosity will also help UT Southwestern grow its research capabilities.

“Establishing an endowed chair helps us recruit and retain even more leading clinical research faculty,” said Dr. Choy. “It adds prestige and makes the position even more meaningful.”

Dr. Choy reflected on the gift’s greater meaning to Ms. Sen’s family and friends as well as her colleagues who continue the work she was so committed to at UT Southwestern.

“This endowment makes Ms. Sen’s name and her institutional legacy eternal. For that alone, I hope she is looking down on us and smiling.”

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