3 cancer diagnoses in her family: Teddy Seraphine-Leonard knows well the challenges of the journey

Chair of the Simms/Mann Cancer Center’s advisory board wants to support others as the center has supported her.
Teddy Seraphine-Leonard is chair of the Simms/Mann-UCLA Comprehensive Cancer Center advisory board.
Teddy Seraphine-Leonard is chair of the Simms/Mann-UCLA Comprehensive Cancer Center advisory board.

The mission of the Simms/Mann-UCLA Center for Integrative Oncology speaks to Teddy Seraphine-Leonard’s condition. Years ago, she was diagnosed with follicular lymphoma, a type of non-Hodgkin lymphoma that is treatable but incurable and, happily for now, dormant.

The mission also speaks to her daughter’s condition: stage IV breast cancer.

And it speaks to her husband’s condition: stage IV head and neck cancer, which was diagnosed and treated in 2013 but recurred in 2016.

“The Simms/Mann Center is very dear to my heart because of all that the center has done for us and for so many others struggling with the devastating diagnosis of cancer,” said Seraphine-Leonard, who chairs the Simms/Mann Center’s advisory board. “Thanks to UCLA clinicians’ research and patient care, cancer is not necessarily a death sentence. It is becoming a chronic disease, and the Simms/Mann Center helps patients through and beyond the treatments.”

The Simms/Mann Center — founded in 1994 by Victoria Mann Simms, PhD, and her husband, Ronald A. Simms — is a collaboration between the Simms/Mann Family Foundation and UCLA Health. The center is part of the UCLA Health Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center and the hematology/oncology division of the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA.

It was one of the nation’s first integrative cancer centers and serves as a national model. The program is part of a patient’s overall plan of treatment and care. Center staff members are embedded in all 20 UCLA Health hematology/oncology clinics throughout Southern California.

With the motto “We care for you: mind, body and spirit,” the Simms/Mann Center takes a whole-person approach to supporting patients. It offers education, counseling, mindfulness and meditation training, therapeutic art programs, nutrition and dietary counseling, body movement, spiritual care and bereavement support. Most of the programs, including support groups and psychosocial care, are offered for free.

In 2015, Camelia Lynne, who also serves on the Simms-Mann advisory board, introduced her friend Seraphine-Leonard to Anne Coscarelli, PhD, a psychologist who was the founding director of the Simms/Mann Center and has served in an emeritus role since 2018.

The center’s integrative approach aligned perfectly with Seraphine-Leonard’s own philosophy, and she was inspired to join the advisory board before she or anyone else in her family had benefited from the program.

“Providing care to patients and families when they need it most, without the additional stress of payment, is one of the many gifts the center provides,” Seraphine-Leonard said. “Members of the advisory board and our new, younger associate board donate funds, raise funds and build awareness so that the center can remain a safe harbor in the storm.”

Making a home in L.A.

Therese “Teddy” Newton was in her second year at a Chicago-area teachers college when she flew to Los Angeles to visit a sister. They were two of nine siblings who grew up in a lively Irish Catholic family in a North Shore suburb of Chicago.

For the middle child, whose family early on had dubbed her Teddy, that visit marked the end of 27-below wind-chill factor and the start of a new life on the West Coast.

“I quit school, canceled my engagement and quit my job back in Chicago,” she said. “It was the 1970s and rock and roll and L.A., and I was right in the middle of it, and it was a lot of fun.”

In Los Angeles, she hung out with her sister’s and brother-in-law’s rock-and-roll musician friends and ended up marrying a drummer: Danny Seraphine, a founding member of the rock band Chicago.

Together, they parented five children, often on the road, including her daughter, Ashley Bartell, from a previous marriage, and Danny’s two daughters from a previous marriage.

The couple divorced in 1992 but remain on good terms. (Teddy kept the name Seraphine for professional reasons.) In 2018, Danny Seraphine and his band, CTA, and Robby Krieger of the Doors performed a benefit concert for the Simms/Mann Center.

Cancer diagnosis

In 1982, soon after giving birth to their son, J.D., and daughter, Taryn, in quick succession, Teddy Seraphine became ill. The second of the pregnancies had been rough, with bleeding and weight gain of just 12 pounds. After the birth, she lost not only the pregnancy weight but several more pounds. The diagnosis was follicular lymphoma, a cancer of the lymphatic system.

At the time, the only treatment available was chemotherapy and radiation, which her doctors thought could buy her a decade of life.

With three children under age 4, she said, “that did not feel like enough time.”

Trusting her instincts, she chose not to get the traditional treatment. She began eating a healthier diet and sought out meditation, massage, herbs, acupuncture and crystal therapy. She became certified in alternative healing modalities: kinesiology (the study of human movement), biofeedback (a mind-body technique used to control some body functions, such as heart rate and breathing), hypnotherapy, Reiki energy healing and neurolinguistic programming (a therapy intended to help people change their patterns of mental and emotional behavior).

She began doing healing work with cancer patients in 1984. In the 1990s, she studied and became certified in Thai, Swedish and shiatsu massage. She taught energy work and became accredited through the state of California to teach health care professionals. In the early 2000s, she began what would become a long-running career in real estate in Pacific Palisades and Malibu.

Seraphine-Leonard’s instincts about her health served her well. She has kept symptoms at bay and enjoys a busy life as a Realtor with eXp, an online real estate company; as the chief operating officer of the Reel Inn Malibu, the iconic fish market and restaurant, which she owns with her husband, Andy Leonard; as a volunteer; and as a grandmother or step-grandmother to 10 kids, from 20 months to 18 years old.

Living their best lives

For Seraphine-Leonard, the Simms/Mann Center has been a godsend. When she experienced pain amid a return of her non-Hodgkin lymphoma in 2017, UCLA Health doctors found a tumor in her abdomen. They prescribed rituximab, a monoclonal antibody medication that helped keep her stable.

When daughter Ashley Bartell’s metastasized breast cancer returned a year ago, Seraphine-Leonard was grateful that UCLA Health doctors took on the case, along with doctors in New York, where Bartell lives. She takes abemaciclib, a daily chemotherapy pill.

Meanwhile, Andy Leonard’s cancer returned in 2016, and he had to endure more nausea-inducing rounds of chemotherapy. A UCLA Health nurse asked whether he had tried the drug rolapitant to control his nausea. The drug helped him to stay on his feet to run his restaurant and work on BMW cars, a longtime hobby.

Throughout these health scares, Seraphine-Leonard and her family have sought the Simms/Mann Center’s help.

“Having the support of the center has made all of the difference,” Seraphine-Leonard said. “I have lived with follicular lymphoma for 41 years. My husband has lived with his stage IV diagnosis for 10 years. With the world-class treatment from UCLA and psychosocial support from the Simms/Mann Center, we are living our lives in the best way possible. I am very grateful to be a part of this work and honored to support them.”

Martha Groves is the author of this article.

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