Stories of Fortitude, Aptitude, and Gratitude

“Adversity does not build character, it reveals it.” This quote from author James Lane Allen epitomizes how the passionate individuals and teams at Huntsman Cancer Institute (HCI) rose to the challenge during the COVID-19 pandemic. CEO Mary Beckerle, PhD, shares examples from the past year of fortitude, aptitude, and gratitude as HCI held fast to its commitment of putting patients and community first. (Right: Dr. Beckerle addresses the HCI community in February 2020—one of the last in-person HCI events of the year.)

Mary Beckerle, PhD
CEO, Huntsman Cancer Institute

Read Dr. Beckerle's Message

Mary Beckerle, PhD

A Day at HCI in 2020

776

Outpatient, Infusion, and Radiology Visits

105

Radiation Treatments

78

Inpatients

13

Surgeries

500

Masks Distributed

5 Gallons

Hand Sanitizer Used

222

Cancer Research Teams at Work

More than 530

Ongoing Cancer Research Projects

By the Numbers

COVID-19 had a major impact on the health care industry in 2020. Yet cancer didn't stop, even for a global pandemic. It changed the way we work, but did not change our commitment.

Construction at our campus location remained in full swing. The Orrin G. Hatch Center for Proton Therapy—first in the Mountain West and closest within a 700-mile radius—was completed. Excavation, foundation walls, and steel erection took place for the new Kathryn F. Kirk Center for Comprehensive Cancer Care and Women’s Cancers. On average, 65 workers were on site daily, totaling roughly 3,500 person-hours of work per week.

Through it all, our more than 2,375 providers, faculty, staff, and students continued to provide exceptional patient care, seek answers to pressing cancer questions, and adapt to meet the needs of our community.

“In a year that challenged us, our character was revealed. Even a pandemic cannot stop us from putting cancer patients and our community first.”
- Mary Beckerle, PhD

A Commitment to an Anti-Racist Cancer Center

In response to a national reckoning on racism in the wake of the murder of George Floyd, HCI made a major commitment to create meaningful changes that would result in a more just, equitable, and inclusive environment. The commitment was direct: to become an anti-racist cancer center.

Read More from Our EDI Commission

A Patient's Perspective on Breast Cancer, Fertility, and Race

Tiana Rogers, PhD, was trying for a baby and working on her research career when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Though she describes her cancer treatment and fertility planning care as “textbook,” she knows Black women like her face worse outcomes than other racial groups when it comes to cancer, pregnancy, and various medical issues. Now she’s using her experience to help other women of color achieve health equity.

Read Tiana's Story

Tiana Rogers
George and Rikki Morales hug in front of Huntsman Cancer Institute

Finding a Way to Celebrate during a Time with No Visitors

Until the coronavirus pandemic forced hospitals to establish a zero-visitor policy, George Morales accompanied his wife, Rikki, to all her cancer treatments. Though he couldn’t come with her anymore, George was determined to be there when Rikki finished her last chemo treatment. With help from the HCI infusion team, he found a safe way to attend and celebrate with her.

Read Rikki's Story

A Look Back at 2020: Year in Pictures

Food Services poses for a team photo following the annual New Year Employee Breakfast. | January 2020

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Utah legislators tour HCI’s Cancer Screening and Education Bus and learn about our cancer prevention and community engagement efforts. | February 2020

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Legislative partners and spouses of Utah tour HCI’s labs, hospital, and construction sites before COVID restrictions began. | February 2020

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Mevion Medical Systems and Jacobson Construction deliver and install a 15-ton accelerator, the "heart" of the Senator Orrin G. Hatch Center for Proton Therapy. | March 2020

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HCI’s Beacon of Hope is lit white in support of front-line medical staff working to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. | March 2020

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Dock employees unload the first batch of a five-ton supply of hand sanitizer made possible by Huntsman Corporation and LyondellBasell. | April 2020

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Amanda Truong, who studies melanoma in HCI's Martin McMahon Lab, defends her thesis virtually. Amanda is in the University of Utah's MD-PhD program. She is the first in her family to graduate from college and become a doctor. | April 2020

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R&R BBQ delivers dinner to HCI staff, showing appreciation for health care workers during the pandemic. | April 2020 

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Abbey Hafen, an HCI intensive care unit nurse, brings her violin to work during our limited visitor policy—only days before the mask mandate went into effect—to lift the spirits of patients and staff. | April 2020

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Hill Air Force base fighter pilots pay tribute to health care workers at HCI and across the state of Utah with a flyover. | April 2020

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Lori, an HCI infusion nurse, receives a note from a patient's wife with tips to care for her husband during our COVID zero-visitor policy. This gesture inspired a “patient care card” initiative, where loved ones could offer suggestions to our health care staff. | April 2020

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HCI nurses pose for a photo to commemorate Nurses Week 2020. | May 2020

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Neli Ulrich, PhD, and her research team gather for a physically distanced lunch meeting. | June 2020

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Health care professionals from HCI, University of Utah Health, and across the nation knelt during eight minutes of silent reflection, committing to improve the health and safety of people of Black, Indigenous, and other people of color. #WhiteCoatsforBlackLives | June 2020

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Huntsman Cancer Foundation staff decorate the patient patio at HCI during their virtual SportsFest event. | June 2020

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Our zero-visitor policy during the pandemic inspires caregivers to get creative in showing up for their loved ones. | September 2020

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HCI hospital executive director Don Milligan and director of nursing Lawrence Marsco watch the delivery of the new Kathryn F. Kirk Center for Comprehensive Cancer Care and Women’s Cancers skybridge. | October 2020

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David Gaffney, MD, PhD, John Ward, MD, and staff from Huntsman Cancer Foundation thanked our top 2020 fundraisers and fundraising teams at a physically distant drive-thru celebration. | October 2020

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Construction of the Kathryn F. Kirk Center for Comprehensive Cancer Care and Women’s Cancers at night. The HCI Beacon of Hope is lit in purple to commemorate Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month. | November 2020

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Our radiation oncology faculty and staff—45% of whom identify as female—celebrate Marie Curie’s birthday. #WomenWhoCurie | November 2020

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Brigham Young University and University of Utah’s mascots, Cosmo and Swoop, stop by to show their support to patients and staff. | December 2020

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Cancer Doesn't Pause in a Pandemic

Cancer diagnoses have gone down during the COVID-19 pandemic—but that doesn’t mean cancer incidence has gone down. Doctors are concerned many cancers are going undiagnosed or untreated as people postponed or canceled routine screenings. They urge everyone to keep up with screening appointments so that cancer can be found early, when it is easier to treat.

Read More from Our Doctors

Nurse listens to a man's lungs during a cancer screening appointment

Working to Eradicate Cancer Through Research Innovation

Every five to seven years, HCI goes through a rigorous application process to maintain status as a National Cancer Institute-Designated Comprehensive Cancer Center and prove we meet the highest standards for care and research. In 2020, the NCI granted renewed status and awarded HCI its best score yet. And despite the challenges of the coronavirus pandemic, HCI submitted more research grants than the year before, had 558 research publications, and kept clinical trials open for 1,800 patients. We also invested $180,033,948 in research across the cancer center.

Read More from Our Cancer Center Executive Director

“HCI nurses truly put our patients and community first; are united in their efforts for all patients, their families, and each other; and are excellent in everything they do.”
- Lawrence Marsco, RN, MSN, OCN
Lawrence Marsco

Message from Our Nursing Director

Our 500-plus nurses at HCI have shined through an unprecedented time. They showed compassion, resilience, and grit through a pandemic, social unrest and injustice, and emergency responses during an earthquake and hurricane-force winds. Despite all of these challenges, our nurses continue to provide the highest quality compassionate care to cancer patients and their families.

Read More from Our Nursing Director

Collage of new trainees; Dilru Silva, BS, Emilio Cortes-Sanchez, Helen Lillie, PhD, Lindsay Hunter, MD, Zannel Blanchard, BS, and Kristen Kelley, MD

Meet Our Trainees

Since its inception, HCI has made it part of our mission to educate and train the next generation of scientists and physicians to continue the lifesaving work of cancer research. In 2020, HCI had 527 trainees. Here, we highlight several of them, sharing what drives their research, why they chose HCI, and how the COVID-19 pandemic emphasized the importance of collaboration and mentored support as they begin and build upon their careers.

Read More about Our Trainees

Message from Huntsman Cancer Foundation

The sole purpose of Huntsman Cancer Foundation (HCF) is to raise funds to support HCI's mission. I want to personally thank the HCF team for its flexibility, agility, and fortitude in the face of unprecedented circumstances. And as important, I thank our loyal donors who remained dedicated to our goal of eradicating cancer, even as our world faced a new and frightening virus. Without your support, none of our accomplishments are possible.

Read Mr. Huntsman's Message

Peter Huntsman
“A crisis creates the opportunity to dip deep into the reservoirs of our very being, to rise to levels of confidence, strength, and resolve that otherwise we didn’t think we possessed.”
- Jon M. Huntsman, Sr.