Christy Clark Celebrates Survival at Rockefeller Institute’s Annual Gala for Life

“I am grateful for the Cancer Institute,” said Christy Clark, this year’s co-chair for the Winthrop P. Rockefeller Institute’s 16th Annual Gala for Life. “I was treated at the Institute and am still a patient there today. My experience there has been one of excellent care.”

Clark was diagnosed with breast cancer in May 2008, soon after the loss of her father-in-law, Bill Clark, to esophageal cancer. “I had a friend going through breast cancer, and she was on my mind. I decided I should do a self-exam and almost immediately felt a lump,” she explained. “I followed up with a mammogram and biopsy, which revealed the breast cancer.”

Clark’s battle with cancer is not over; she continues to take medicine and is monitored by an oncologist. The experience has been significant, not only because of the emotional toll but also because of the excellent care she received from UAMS’ Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute.

“I am thankful to have cancer research and specialized patient care right here in Little Rock so that the many cancer patients of our state are able to receive treatment close to home,” she said. “I have experienced firsthand the benefits from the great resource we have in the Cancer Institute. My dad, Bobby Swanson, was treated there, my father-in-law, Bill Clark, was treated there, and I have been a patient there. I am so grateful for the excellent care that each of us has received.”

The Cancer Institute officially opened in 1989, but the idea and the recognition of a need for a research-driven care center in Arkansas had been in the works for over a decade. In 1984, the late Harry Ward, MD, gave Drs. Kent Westbrook and James Suen the go-ahead to formalize their plans for the Arkansas Cancer Research Center, an idea they’d been discussing since the 1970s.

In 1989, the first four floors of the Walker Tower opened, with half of the space dedicated to research and half to patient care. In the same year, Dr. Bart Barlogie began developing a comprehensive myeloma program, which is now known as the Myeloma Institute for Research and Treatment. In 2007 the Cancer Institute as a whole was renamed in honor of Winthrop P. Rockefeller, and in August 2010 the Institute opened a 12-story expansion tower, which has doubled the capacity for research and treatment programs.

“I have a great respect for Dr. Kent Westbrook, one of the founders of the Cancer Institute,” said Clark. “I am honored to work with him and his wife, Jonnie, and to help further the work at the Cancer Institute that they are so passionate about.”

This year’s Annual Gala, which will be on Friday, September 16, at the Statehouse Convention Center, is being co-chaired by Clark and her husband, William. Honorary chairs are Dr. Kent and Jonnie Westbrook, and the honorees are Frank Hickingbotham and Herren and Susan Hickingbotham.

“The gala is a major fundraiser for the Cancer Institute, so if we can get more people to attend the event, then we can also, throughout the night of the event, expose them to the Institute, its efforts and needs,” Clark said. “We have Kool and the Gang coming as our entertainment, and when I think of that band, I think of their song ‘Celebration.’ We are celebrating our successes at the Cancer Institute, but we are also serious about continuing to raise funds for the needed research and care to fight cancer.”

Because of Clark’s personal experience with cancer, the Institute’s success means much more. “I benefit from the improvements being made to the Cancer Institute,” she said. “I sit in those waiting room chairs and in the lab and in those doctor’s offices. I know how much it means as a frightened new patient to walk through those doors. I want to be a part of helping to make this place the best that it can be for the patient.” She hopes the gala will not only raise funds but also raise awareness for the Institute and the work they do.

“If I had to describe my time at the Cancer Institute in one sentence, it would be as follows: I am thankful for the excellent care that I have received at the Cancer Institute, and I am humbled each time I go there by the efforts being made by the doctors, patients and caregivers to beat cancer.”

16th Annual Gala for Life
when: 6 p.m. cocktails, 7 p.m. dinner, Friday, Sept. 16
where: Statehouse Convention Center
entertainment: Kool and The Gang
tickets and info: $500 per person, 526-2277

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