September 29, 2003

Winship Cancer Institute opens to great fanfare

By Eric Rangus

Under the tent in the middle of Uppergate Drive last Wednesday, Sept. 24 about 180 people gathered for the dedication of the $75 million Winship Cancer Institute (WCI) rising impressively just to the south. Roughly twice that number fanned out beside the tent, all of them in attendance to witness an impressive array of dignitaries speak of the afternoon’s importance not just to Emory but to the state of Georgia and even the entire medical world in the fight against cancer.

“This is a marvelous day and a marvelous occasion,” said Ben Johnson, chair of the Board of Trustees, as he stepped to the microphone at 2 p.m. on the warm, sunny afternoon to introduce the first speaker, Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue.

“I am proud to be here on a day that brings basic scientific research and clinical cancer care together under one roof,” said Perdue, who earlier this month helped announce a $1.9 million planning grant to WCI from the National Cancer Institute. Perdue said the grant is the first step toward WCI receiving designation as a Comprehensive Cancer Center, which would position it as one of the elite cancer centers in the nation.

“By opening the doors to this building, we are opening new doors to this fight against cancer, and we won’t stop until the battle is won,” Perdue said.

Following Perdue was the first of several Emory speakers, President Jim Wagner. He noted that since he has only been on campus for a month, he had not directly contributed to WCI’s construction, but that he could pledge the University’s support for the future.

“Within these walls will be doctors to serve patients, research to conquer disease and hope to conquer fear,” he told the crowd, which was made up of Emory physicians, administrators, trustees, faculty members and staff. “We gather today with a strength of purpose and a sense of hope.”

Michael Johns, executive vice president for Health Affairs, had several prepared remarks, but he was most poignant when he diverted from them.

“I remember back some time ago when we thought that we needed to do this,” he said. “And if you stop and think about where we were seven years ago as a concept—maybe nowhere—it’s quite remarkable to see that we’re here today.”

Johns related the story of how the WCI, and the Robert Winship Memorial Clinic before it, came to be. In 1937, Robert Woodruff donated $50,000 to Emory to create a clinic that would bring the most advanced treatments to cancer patients from not only Georgia but throughout the United States. He named it after his maternal grandfather, who died of cancer.

Johns said that Woodruff’s vision was of patient-centered care, a notion that the next speaker, School of Medicine Dean Thomas Lawley, acknowledged and expanded on.

“Work on cancer is collaborative,” Lawley said. “This disease extends across so many disciplines. Whether it is among our colleagues at Emory or across the nation, we are all in this together.”

WCI Director Jonathan Simons explained the symbolism behind the inspirational naming of each of WCI’s floors. From bottom to top they are: Compassion, Caring, Courage, Hope, Imagination, Translation and Discovery.

Discovery and Translation—two signposts of research, discovering new treatments and translating them to the clinic—should flow down from research to patient care, Simons said. Then there is the name of the ground floor, Courage, the one where patients and their families and friends enter the building. “Courage is the power supply for the efforts flourishing on the other six floors of the building,” he said.

The final speaker was Stella Kazazian, a two-time survivor or non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, who movingly—and somewhat brassily—told her story.

“Life doesn’t end with a diagnosis of cancer,” said Kazazian, who first was diagnosed with Stage 3/4 non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in January 1996. “You learn to savor life. You develop a relationship of hope and recovery with other patients. You share a special bond and camaraderie. You grieve when a friend dies and you cheer like heck when one survives.”

She beat cancer that time, but almost five years to the day after her first diagnosis, the cancer returned. This June, her CAT scan showed no sign of the disease. “Now I’m a volunteer here,” she said, adding that despite the diagnosis she is not yet in remission. “It’s my turn to give.”

Following Kazazian’s words, all of the speakers (as well as Susan Henry-Crowe, dean of the Chapel and Religious Life) cut the ribbon officially opening WCI. Following the ribbon-cutting, guests were given tours of the facility.