Cancer survivors and those touched by cancer speak at Cancer Center groundbreaking

Groundbreaking for the newly-renamed University of Hawai’i Cancer Center was celebrated in a ceremony that featured recollections from cancer survivors and those who have suffered beside them, including Hawai’i U.S. Senator Daniel K. Inouye. The center site is adjacent to the John A. Burns School of Medicine.

“I know what it is like to go through this hell,” Senator Inouye told an audience of more than 150 people, including Inouye’s colleague, U.S. Senator Daniel Akaka, members of the state legislature, Hawai’i’s major hospitals and the community.

Senator Inouye was greeted with a standing ovation, in recognition of his tireless support of the cancer center project.

In his keynote address, Sen. Inouye recalled three times his own life was touched by cancer, as he promised the construction of the cancer center will bring the best of care available to Hawai’i.

“I spent one month and one week in a cot beside my wife’s hospital bed,” Inouye said, recalling his late wife Maggie’s diagnosis of cancer six years ago. She died in 2006.

“I accompanied her to a wig fitting after she lost her hair from chemotherapy,” Inouye said. “I don’t know if you’ve ever been to a wig fitting, but it is not a happy experience.”

Inouye said his wife instructed doctors to withhold food and treatment, except for pain killers, just before her death. “She only wanted the painkillers and water, and she told me she would die in 10 days,” Inouye said. “Can you imagine hearing your wife tell you that?” he asked.

Inouye also recounted how his grandmother suffered from cancer, and how, in 1967, doctors told him he had lung cancer. The diagnosis was wrong, as surgeons discovered when they operated on Inouye, removing a rib and leaving a 16-inch scar on his abdomen. “I was a two and a half pack of cigarettes smoker,” Inouye said, “and that day (of my diagnosis) was the last day I ever smoked.”

Funds to build the new cancer center in Hawai’i are coming from a tax on the sale of cigarettes which the Hawai’i State Legislature dedicated to the center construction.

“You have given us the resources and the ground that we needed to be here today,” UH President MRC Greenwood said to members of the legislature, who were invited guests at the groundbreaking event.

The $120-million cancer center project, part of the UH Manoa, will rise adjacent to UH Manoa’s medical school in Kaka’ako. The more than 150,000 square feet building is due to be completed by 2013. The medical school’s Kaka’ako campus opened in 2005.

“This is the Cancer Center for Hawai’i’s people and I promise we will give Hawai’i a first-rate cancer center,” said Dr. Michele Carbone, Director of the UH Cancer Center.
Carbone praised the leaders of The Queen’s Medical Center, Hawai’i Pacific Health and Kuakini Health Systems who he said put aside the competition of their hospitals to work together for Hawai’i’s cancer center.

“This is much too important to let competition get in the way,” Carbone said, explaining that the hospitals and the University of Hawai’i joined forces to “afford together what we could not afford separately.”

Under the partnership agreement, The UH Cancer Center will lead research efforts, including clinical trials and the hospitals will continue to deliver care to patients, making use of the latest research.

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