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KU Cancer Center patients reflect on treatment journey following hospital's national recognition

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Posted at 5:23 PM, Jul 07, 2022
and last updated 2022-07-07 18:23:47-04

KANSAS CITY, Kan. — The University of Kansas Cancer Center has received the “Comprehensive” cancer center designation from the National Center Institute.

This is the highest level of national recognition many KU Cancer Center officials have been working towards since the institution was federally named as a cancer center by the NCI in 2012.

“20 years ago, we were told that this was a pipe dream,” Roy Jensen, the director of the University of Kansas Cancer Center, said.

According to the center, one in two men and one in three women will be diagnosed with cancer in their lifetime.

Staff at KU Cancer Center see 6,500 new patients every year. The need for holistic cancer research and treatment continues to grow.

“Patients treated at NCI designated cancer centers have a 25% better survival than if they are treated elsewhere, and that’s what it’s all about,” Jensen said.

In addition to the national recognition, the KU Cancer Center received a five-year, $14 million grant from the NCI.

The grant will mean increased access to federal funding, research and recruitment of leading cancer experts.

Mary Francis Thornton, who found herself facing a second round of cancer, knew she was in good hands after she was diagnosed when she found KU Cancer Center.

She says the outcomes could have been a lot different if she went with another hospital.

“They told me not to worry about anything,” Thornton said. “If they would not have stepped up, I probably would not have been here. So I’m grateful.”

Thornton’s daughter, Tere Stokes, was working at The University of Kansas Health System at the time of her mother's diagnosis and resigned to help take care of her.

Stokes is grateful her team at KU took her mom’s case head-on. Thornton is cancer-free as of a week and a half ago.

“The fight was just on after that. It was just a team effort at KU,” Stokes said. “In the worst situation of your life, as a daughter and this is my mother, I don’t want you missing even the smallest details because everything matters.”

For Judy Klimek, who survived breast cancer at the KU cancer center, she says having a world-class cancer center in her region changed everything.

As an employee at a university, she felt drawn to academic medicine at KU.

“It was two hours each way on the interstate, but that was a lot better than having to take a week and you know several weeks at a time, to another state to meet with specialists,” Klimek said. “I felt immediately at KU that everybody was in my corner and rooting for me and also very hopeful.”