Symbol of hope: Huntsman Cancer Institute opens its new building to the public

May 9, 2023, 6:25 AM

Patricia Cabrera and other current and former cancer patients, including Karen Huntsman, second fro...

Patricia Cabrera and other current and former cancer patients, including Karen Huntsman, second from right, cofounder of the Huntsman Cancer Institute, cut the ribbon at the opening of the new Kathryn F. Kirk Center for Comprehensive Cancer Care and Women’s Cancers at Huntsman Cancer Institute in Salt Lake City on Monday. (Photo: Spenser Heaps, Deseret News)

(Photo: Spenser Heaps, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — Rebecca Cressman, a radio host and cancer survivor, said the new Huntsman Cancer Institute building, standing over the Salt Lake Valley, is a symbol of cancer patients’ collective hopes and dreams — their desire to live.

Cressman said she remembers the groundbreaking ceremony, and as a patient it was powerful to watch the space be built through the windows while she was receiving treatment.

“It symbolizes a continuous commitment to provide the most advanced care in the world to all the patients,” she said.

Now, she has been cancer free for four years, but she continues helping the Huntsman Cancer Institute as a patient research advocate.

In Sept. 2019 ground was broken on the Kathryn F. Kirk Center, a significant expansion to the Huntsman Cancer Institute. A ribbon was cut on the building in a dedicatory celebration held on Monday.

President M. Russell Ballard, acting president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, gave a dedicatory prayer, asking for a blessing on those who contributed to the building and provide care in the building, and dedicated the building for the healing of the sick.

“We pray … that the feeling of care and love will permeate the walls of this beautiful building,” he said.

Cressman said her mom and grandmother both died of cancer. Her mom fought to get care at the Huntsman Cancer Institute, but her insurance would not cover it. She said her mom had researched and determined the Huntsman Cancer Institute was the most advanced cancer center in the world.

Because of her family history, Cressman received routine mammograms, and after her diagnosis she was at the Huntsman Cancer Center the next day developing a treatment plan. To her, the Huntsman Cancer Institute became not just a place for treatment, but a symbol of strength, protection and compassionate care. She said it allowed her to rest her worries while she was there.

“It felt like everyone, from the moment we walked through these doors, gave compassionate care to all of us, to help us understand our cancer, to relieve our suffering, and to create and provide better treatments today and tomorrow,” she said.

A legacy

Kathryn Kirk’s son, Spencer Kirk, spoke at the dedication and thanked all of the generous donors who joined their family in making the dream of this center a reality. He said his mother raised 10 children while being involved in her church and community.

Spencer Kirk said his mother died at 57 from metastatic cancer after a life spent inspiring and lifting those around her. There is a tribute in the building to her that reads: “May all who enter through these doors find the hope they seek, be touched by the healing hands of God and lifted in body, mind and spirit,” Kirk noted.

Peter Huntsman, chairman and CEO of the Huntsman Cancer Foundation, said the Huntsman family lived a few doors down from the Kirk family. He said he believes Kathryn Kirk would not want her name on the building, but he thanked her and the family for letting them use her name.

“This building deserves her name. And it deserves the name of every other woman in our society who has given hope, who has given compassion, who has given understanding, who has given companionship, friendship, to make society better than it otherwise would be. That’s what this is all about,” Huntsman said.

Huntsman commented on Cressman’s story about her mother, and said he believes the building should be able to help every Utahn, and every insurance company should cover care at the facility.

“This institution belongs to the people of the state of Utah, it’s yours,” he said.

Space for care

The new area of the Huntsman Cancer Institute has beautiful recovery rooms for patients who have had a bone marrow transplant that takes into consideration space for supporting family members, an area for breast cancer screenings designed to provide privacy, and a room where patients and staff can attend cooking and exercise health courses.

It is decorated by an American Indian art collection contributed by Karen Huntsman, including a piece that was a gift given to her and the institute at Monday’s event.

Don Milligan, executive director of the Huntsman Cancer Institute’s cancer hospital, said it is are scheduling patients for care in the new building, but the first appointment isn’t until June 5.

“Today is the day we get to show off this building to the public. This building has been in the plans, in the works for many years and toady we open, we cut the ribbon, we get closer to our ability to provide care in this building,” he said.

The building provides an additional 48 inpatient beds, four more cancer-specific operating rooms, 20 exam rooms and the ability to provide more mammographies and endoscopies. He said he is thrilled with the tools and resources available.

“This just really enhances, expands our ability to provide care,” Milligan said.

He said the facility currently don’t have the room for all of its patients, so this is necessary now, and it should cover growth over the next four to five years. He said leaders are working on other projects to expand care past that point as well.

Milligan said, statistically, 1 of every 2 men and 1 of every 3 women receive a cancer diagnosis, and the Huntsman Cancer Institute helps not just Utah but the five states around it.

“Unfortunately, we need a lot of cancer care, here and everywhere,” he said.

He said many cancers are preventable if people participate in screenings, diet and exercise, and handle stress. Milligan said hearing someone has cancer is one of the worst days in their lives, but cancers are much more treatable if they are caught early.

Allison Sawyer, who is both a patient of Huntsman Institute and an employee managing material services, was diagnosed with breast cancer in January.

“I feel so fortunate, and so lucky to be here, I was already … preparing for this building to open, and now I really have more of … an understanding of why it is so incredibly necessary,” she said.

At the Huntsman Cancer Center treatment is seamless, everything is in the same place, and this building will enhance that even more, she said.

“It is a format that is so comforting, and they care for you, and you feel that — you feel well cared for,” she said.

For example, she said she was set up with a genetic counselor for testing so she could get information from that before making a decision on treatment. Sawyer also said her oncologist wrote two pages of notes for her while they were talking, giving her things she could refer back to.

Sawyer said 1 in 8 women is diagnosed with breast cancer, and she encouraged her friends to get their regular screenings.

“(Women) take care of everyone else, and so we have to try to remind ourselves to also focus on screenings and remind ourselves to do that,” she said.

The need to grow

Michael Good, senior vice president of health sciences at the University of Utah, said the institute is taking a “giant leap forward” in compassionate care with this new building.

“Health care is about people taking care of people. It’s about one human being taking care of another. And this is so true of what happens to this facility every day,” he said.

Good said the best minds in science and medicine want to join the Huntsman Cancer Institute in fighting cancer, and its staff members are the reason the hospital is consistently ranked as one of the top cancer hospitals in the country.

Utah House Speaker Brad Wilson said this project is possible because of contributions from many individuals and organizations, and is an example of what can be accomplished through the “Utah way,” which involves innovation and commitment to planning for the future. He said it is an example of growing responsibly and helping the community.

Wilson said Utah recently ranked the best overall state in the U.S. News and World Report, and the highest-weighted category was health care. He said Utah’s economic growth and world class health care are due in part to the Huntsman Cancer Institute.

“This space is one of the ways that … we’re making sure that we have the best access to cancer treatment and the best care in the world — right here in our own backyard,” he said.

He said the increased capacity is needed and is remarkable.

Taylor Randall, president of the University of Utah, said research is foundational to cancer care, and the Huntsman Cancer Institute is the only place in the region that is working to develop new treatments.

“The Kathryn F. Kirk Center is a testament to our commitment to eradicate cancer and will allow us to continue providing comprehensive care to our patients and communities,” he said.

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Symbol of hope: Huntsman Cancer Institute opens its new building to the public