SALT LAKE CITY — When Elaine Walters-Case at age 37 learned she had breast cancer, everything changed.
"It was devastating. I mean, getting that diagnosis any time, but especially at the age of 37, it's pretty devastating. I received the news on the day I picked up our wedding invitations. I was just getting married two months later," Walters-Case said.
The disease then returned two years later, and she's battled stage 4 cancer ever since. But she says she's "been fortunate enough to benefit from care for the last 13 years at Huntsman and I know that it is something that has extended my life, the excellent world-class care that I get there."
Walters-Case spoke with reporters at a news conference Thursday at the Grand America Hotel, along with officials from Huntsman Cancer Center who announced a proposed expansion to the facility.
The 100,000-square-foot expansion would extend from the north end of the cancer center's existing buildings, officials said, adding up to 50 new inpatient rooms and workspace for doctors.
Several donors have committed to altogether donate $40 million to the project. Donors include Spencer and Kristen Kirk in honor of Kathryn F. Kirk — whom the expansion will be named for — The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Humanitarian Aid Fund, and doTERRA International, among others who are remaining anonymous.
The Kathryn F. Kirk Center for Comprehensive Cancer Care and Women's Cancers at Huntsman Cancer Institute will also include more procedure, consultation and outpatient rooms and will increase the size of the Wellness and Integrative Health Center, according to officials.
"My father said that someday, we'll be finished with cancer. We'll have eradicated cancer. He wants to take this entire facility and put it into a Four Seasons resort," said Peter Huntsman, president and CEO of Huntsman Corporation, noting his late father Jon Huntsman's commitment to fighting the disease.
"The life expectancy every year, we continue to make progress. … The research we're doing today will help them in the future. The time to give is now, the time to care is now. … And this is a facility that will be able to enable that sort of giving, enable that sort of expansion and that sort of research," he explained.
Huntsman said his father began raising funds for the expansion a year ago.
The plan for additional funds for the proposed expansion — which officials say will cost an estimated $80 million — is expected to be finalized in coming months after receiving approval by the University of Utah Board of Trustees, state legislature and U. building oversight committees, officials said.
Construction would begin in December 2019, with the expansion opening in the fall of 2022, officials said.
Mary Beckerle, CEO Huntsman Cancer Institute and a professor of biology, said that the institute is the only national cancer institute designated as a "comprehensive cancer center" in the Mountain West.
"We have the largest geographic area of any national cancer institute designated cancer center," she explained, emphasizing that more space is needed.
"This is the most exciting time in cancer research that I can ever remember. Because we now appreciate that we're not just targeting one type of cancer. We have 200 different types of cancer. And that knowledge is allowing us to personalize our treatments in a way that's never been possible before," Beckerle said.1 comment on this story
Walters-Case said she was "thrilled" when she heard about the plans "because this is going to enable Huntsman to be able to reach out to even more patients and more families, and they'll be able to hopefully get the benefit that I've been having for so long."
For those who are battling cancer, Huntsman said he'd like them to know that people care.
"First thing I'd like to do is give each one of them a hug, and just let them know that people genuinely care. And with that care comes a world-class facility," he said.
"And there's not a better place in the world where they can be treated. We have it all right here."