New Huntsman Cancer Institute research center to bring hope to families and children

Published: Saturday, June 7 2014 10:50 a.m. MDT

Updated: Saturday, June 7 2014 10:50 a.m. MDT

Jon M. Huntsman becomes emotional as he listens to a musical number by The One Voice Children's Choir during a groundbreaking ceremony for the Primary Children's & Families' Cancer Research Center at Huntsman Cancer Institute in Salt Lake City, Friday, June 6, 2014. Groundbreaking shovels are in the foreground.

Ravell Call, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — After being diagnosed with cancer and told he would only live another six to nine months, Bryan Maughan started to lose hope and tackle his bucket list.

"I was supposed to die last year," said Maughan, 47, who was diagnosed 17 months ago with mucosal melanoma, a fast-growing and rare melanoma found internally. "And then one of the doctors from Huntsman (Cancer Institute) called me up and goes, 'You know, there's a new treatment that just came out. We want you to try it.'"

Maughan said he wouldn't be alive today without the Hunter Cancer Institute, the Huntsman family and his doctors and staff. The institute gave him hope, he said.

It is a hope that Jon Huntsman Sr. intends to bring to more patients and their families with a new research center.

Friday marked the groundbreaking for the Primary Children's and Families' Cancer Research Center at the Huntsman Cancer Institute, a 220,000-square-foot expansion to the existing institute.

The center, expected to be completed in 2016, will double the institute's research space.

"It's really nice to lift people's souls," Huntsman said, "because we know the best medicine to cancer is the love and compassion of other people. It's better than any drug we have. It's better than any medication, any surgery."

Speaking to the crowd at Friday's groundbreaking ceremony, Huntsman recalled an 8-year-old cancer patient he met years and took to Disney World. She offered him inspiration when he began his own cancer treatments. She died a few years later.

"I think I see her in the back of this gathering saying, 'Right on. Keep going. We need you,'" Huntsman said, overcome with emotion as he reflected on others who have died from cancer, including his parents.

The $105 million expansion will be funded through support from the Jon M. Huntsman Family, Huntsman Cancer Foundation, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Intermountain Healthcare and the state of Utah.

Elder M. Russell Ballard spoke on behalf of the LDS Church, saying the church is pleased to be a donor to the new addition and supportive of the facility's name represents.

He said the new center's name "reflects the church's historical emphasis on children and families."

"What will be built here starting today will bring relief not only to those in pain but to extended families and friends who feel the grief and fear of the inflicted," Elder Ballard said.

Friday's event was not a celebration of what has been accomplished, he said, but of what is yet to come.

"We recognize the work and dedication of those who will bring us a better future than we otherwise may have had," Elder Ballard said.

One of those dedicated to furthering cancer research stepped into an elevator with Huntsman.

Moza Msiska, who works in the research lab in the institute's research wing, politely asked if he could shake Huntsman's hand.

"It's an amazing experience to be able to build upon the foundation that he has put forth," Msiska said.

Huntsman's son and former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. said the groundbreaking Friday represented a "lasting and permanent contribution to life, to health, to renewal, to cures and to hope."

"It brings us all together in pursuit of a common objective, to eradicating this dreaded disease from the face of the earth, which will never be an easy thing to do," he said.

Huntsman Sr. said he is comfortable that in 50 years the institute will expand along the entire mountainside with the research center extending to the south and the medial facilities continuing to grow up the hillside and north.

He said the institute is the largest in the world for combined children and adult cancer genetic research. Huntsman Sr. also alluded to an announcement in the coming months of another phase for the institute, another "very unique cancer center in America that doesn't exist today," he said.

Maughan said it was his dream to meet Huntsman Sr. It was a dream that was fulfilled Friday. As the two men embraced, Maughan said he was full of gratitude. Both of their eyes were filled with tears.

"It's a crazy road, cancer. And there are so many things you go through. There's days that you're curled up in the fetal position on the floor just begging to die," Maughan said.

But then he reflected on his experience in the institute and the hope he felt from doctors and staff. Maughan remembers spending time with his family and watching three of his four children wed, and now looks forward to a grandchild.

"Through this whole cancer journey, it's been horrible and tough, and yet I've had some beautiful things happen as well with my kids and my family," he said.

Email: eeagar@deseretnews.com

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