Research and philanthropy drive decade of cancer center progress
One person battling breast cancer is one too many, but the future is bright. For the 1,300 new survivors in the region each year, advancements in technology and research provide hope that someday cures arrive.
To understand where Mills Breast Cancer Institute is going, you must first look back.
Doug and Linda Mills’ lead donation helped establish the world-class breast cancer institute. Joined by nearly 3,000 donors, the mission evolves to upgrade and provide amenities to those receiving breast cancer treatments.
Community donations support patient comforts including:
- Replacing infusion chairs to make patients more comfortable during hours of treatment
- Upgrading the breast biopsy table to bring a little comfort to patients during an already uncomfortable procedure
- Providing beds for private infusion rooms for patients facing side effects
The institute’s welcoming atrium, cozy nooks, bright spaces and peaceful garden reflect the personal touches of the woman who made it a reality a decade ago.
On Tuesday, May 9, 2006, the week before Mother’s Day, the Mills family gathered to help Linda and Carle leadership break the ground that would become home to Mills Breast Cancer Institute. Two years later, they celebrated the building’s opening without Linda, who lost her courageous battle.
Meredith Mills, Linda’s former daughter-in-law, remembers the groundbreaking fondly.
Joined by her daughters Madison and Ashley, now teenagers, they soaked in the magnitude of the day. Both girls are interested in the medical field, clearly impacted by their grandmother’s personal journey with breast cancer.
“Seeing it through their eyes, I’m amazed they could take it all in,” she said.
Patricia Johnson, MD, PhD, one of the institute’s founding physicians, said so much more than a building and equipment make Mills Breast Cancer Institute a downstate leader in the cancer fight.
Meredith agrees. “We’re lucky to have this resource in our community. Mental, social, emotional – all to build hope.”
Doug said amazing services right here in Urbana would be especially important to Linda while the world strives to find a cure.
Engrained research culture
Carle was at the forefront of cancer research and treatment even before construction was completed.
The National Cancer Institute (NCI) has recognized Carle as a valuable research partner since 1982, housing one of only 34 National Community Oncology Research Programs (NCORPs) in the country.
“We have a long-established foundation of research. It’s engrained in our culture and guides physicians on up-to-date, latest treatments,” said Kendrith Rowland, MD.
The vast majority of new breast cancer diagnoses will result in remission. In part, thanks to local clinical research trial participants, which impact survivors locally and beyond.
One such success is participation in the largest, most rigorous precision medicine trial to date, NCI-MATCH, which tailors treatment to the individual’s tumor characteristics.
“Research remains an important part of oncology. We participate in NCI studies and pharmaceutical companies. With many new approaches, treatment options and developments having research done in our community is valuable,” Dr. Rowland said.
Collaborating with University of Illinois researchers through projects like Cancer Scholars for Translational and Applied Research (C*STAR), the goal to foster connections that lead to tangible, near-term benefits for patients in or community with meaningful results for everyone including basic and clinical scientists.
Forward thinking can one day lead to groundbreaking cures that make cancers like Linda’s a thing of the past.
When people find out they have cancer, they face difficult choices. Should they have surgery? Should they have chemotherapy or radiation? Or should they decide against treatment?
Helping patients make informed choices about their care and providing the best outcomes without causing unnecessary harm is a center goal.
“With vast tools and treatment options available today, physicians are now focused on how much to do for a patient that really gives them a better quality of life,” Dr. Johnson said. “Sometimes putting someone through painful procedures that won’t really prolong or improve their life isn’t the best option.”
Today, Meredith honors Linda’s spirit and passion by volunteering for fundraising efforts to continue meeting the needs of cancer survivors and by investing in a center that helps provide answers to some of the scariest questions of their lives.
“The Mills’ family continues to touch lives of those we will never meet,” she said. “It’s not unusual for strangers to hug me, thank me for impacting their family.”