Tom, Claudia, Nikki and Francesca Marshall
When Nikki Marshall of Westport, Connecticut, first got involved with The Michael J. Fox Foundation, she was searching for ways to help her husband, Tom. He’d been diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 1994. What she didn’t expect was how much her engagement with the Foundation would help her — and their two daughters.
With a daily three-hour roundtrip commute from Westport to New York City, where Nikki is a senior vice president in wealth management at Neuberger Berman, she didn’t have much time to spare. But she wanted to meet and interact with other caregivers. Younger than many in her situation, she hadn’t found the right fit through caregiver support groups in her area.
As she got to know the Foundation better, she was connected with several Westport women who shared her experiences — including Alison Wachstein. Just over a year ago, they created an informal group that gets together each month. “We’ve deliberately kept it intimate, with fewer than 12 of us. These women have made such a difference in my life. Tom and my girls worry about me less, knowing that I’m not alone,” Nikki says.
They also keep each other informed. “It was through the group I learned Neupro® [a dopamine agonist patch] was back on the market. After discussing this with his doctor, Tom is now clearly benefitting from the patch,” she says.
Her daughters, Francesca and Claudia, have gotten involved, too. Francesca joined the Team Fox Young Professionals of New York, known as the YPs. She’s appreciated meeting people her age who also have a parent with PD. In 2010, Francesca ran the ING New York City Marathon with Team Fox, raising almost $5,000. Nikki recalls attending the pre-race dinner. “Michael J. Fox took the time to meet every runner. He made them feel so good about what they were doing, and what it meant to him,” she says. “It was a very special experience.”
Claudia gained a first-hand perspective on the Foundation through a summer internship on MJFF’s Research Partnerships team in 2011 and in 2012. Now a senior at Bucknell University, Claudia had “her eyes opened by this experience,” says Nikki. “It was very hands-on. She was taken seriously — presenting to the scientists and interacting with the Foundation’s senior leadership.” Last summer, Claudia won a grant from Bucknell, which they award to students pursuing nonprofit internships.
Inspired by their belief that “if anyone can find a cure, it’s the Fox Foundation,” Nikki and Tom have supported MJFF financially since 2010. When they learned of the Brin Wojcicki Challenge last year, they wanted to stretch their dollars — and more than doubled their previous gift. Through the Challenge, that increase was matched dollar for dollar.
“We were moved that someone would put that kind of extraordinary commitment behind the Foundation,” she says. Nikki hopes the Challenge will ignite others to contribute. “We’re all after a cure. This is an opportunity to leverage our impact and to participate in something that’s groundbreaking.”
Nikki acknowledges it’s been a tough road for Tom since his diagnosis. “But he soldiers on and we are so proud of him,” she says. And he takes great pride in the action their family has taken through MJFF.
“Growing up, I think the girls felt unable to help their father, who’s had Parkinson’s for much of their lives. But through the Foundation they’ve found something they can do. It’s given all of us an extended community, more hope and the gift of feeling truly inspired,” she says.