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Thursday, Aug. 27, 2009 01:58 pm

SIU cancer institute needs funds to “make it run”

Progress continues without new facility

SimmonsCooper Cancer Institute, located on the corner of Carpenter and Rutledge streets.
PHOTO BY AMANDA ROBERT
It’s like building a car and not investing in gas to make it run, says Dr. K. Thomas Robbins of the brand-new, but still unopened home of the SimmonsCooper Cancer Institute at Southern Illinois University.

“It’s one of those things where you’ve invested so much,” Robbins, a head and neck cancer surgeon and the director of the cancer institute, says, “that for a little bit more, you can have it working.”

The institute, which treats 1,200 patients in 11 Springfield clinics, planned to move into its $21.5 million facility, located at 315 W. Carpenter St., this summer. But even after SIU received $250,000 in 2009 supplemental funds for the institute in April, the school didn’t get the nearly $1 million in 2010 state budget funds that it needs to operate and maintain the new 63,000-square-foot building.

“We’ve been caught up in the quagmire of the state budget, like a lot of people,” Robbins says.

SIU started the SimmonsCooper Cancer Institute in 2000 with state funding and additional support from St. John’s Hospital and Memorial Medical Center. Since then, Robbins says, SIU has built a multidisciplinary, modern cancer program that operates with cancer care teams. Under this model, different groups of doctors and scientists work together to focus on one type of cancer, such as breast cancer.

It’s more efficient and beneficial for patients, Robbins says, to be assessed by a group of physicians, surgeons, radiologists and pathologists and then presented with a comprehensive treatment plan.

“It’s not like the old way, where you have a biopsy done, you have cancer and you get sent off to see one cancer doctor and that one cancer doctor says, ‘We’re going to do it this way,’” Robbins says. “Instead, you see the team, the team reviews everything and then there’s a plan developed from the input of everyone. It’s even better than going to get a second opinion.”

Dr. K. Thomas Robbins, director of the SimmonsCooper Cancer Institute.
PHOTO BY AMANDA ROBERT
The SimmonsCooper Cancer Institute also incorporates what Robbins calls a “cancer research enterprise” — at least 20 independent cancer researchers who study varying aspects of the illness. These researchers, he says, such as Dr. Laura Rogers, who recently received a $3.5 million grant to study exercise and breast cancer, obtain $8 million a year in cancer research funding for SIU, compared to the $1 million a year obtained in 2000.

SIU launched a plan to build a new facility for the cancer institute in November 2005, after receiving a $10.2 million gift from the East Alton-based SimmonsCooper law firm and the Simmons Family Foundation.

It was designed to meet the needs and moods of cancer patients, Robbins says, by offering an open, uplifting atmosphere. The individual cancer clinics are arranged around a large conference room, where cancer care teams can meet to devise treatment plans. The new facility will also provide space for research, as well as for outreach and educational services.

The SimmonsCooper Cancer Institute is a sizeable entity without a building, Robbins says, with roughly 70 professionals working in stations spread across Springfield.

“All of these programs are growing and moving forward,” he says. “You can imagine what a psychological boost it’s going to be. We ’ll all be together.” The SimmonsCooper Cancer Institute hopes to eventually receive its state funding appropriation, but in the meantime will continue to focus on fundraising. The institute recently hosted its inaugural spring butterfly release event and, on Oct. 9, will hold its ninth annual Denim & Diamonds fundraiser at the Crowne Plaza-Springfield. Last year the event raised $280,000 for the institute; this year donations will support Side by Side, a program that provides psychological and emotional support to cancer patients and their families.

“Every year, we have exceeded the previous year, and so far, we’re on target to do that even though we’ve had a downturn in the economy,” Robbins says. “This tells me the community is getting behind us. They see the value for what they get in having this resource here.”

Contact Amanda Robert at arobert@illinoistimes.com.
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