A $1.1 million gift will support the development of a University of Arizona Cancer Center program that aims to integrate traditional medicine and therapies with Western cancer treatments to improve health outcomes, build resiliency for survival and encourage patient well-being.
"We are interested in looking at how we can integrate these traditional practices from the outset of a patient's cancer diagnosis and put them directly into a care program that incorporates cultural and spiritual practices that are important to the individual and their healing," said Jennifer Hatcher, associate director of cancer community outreach and engagement for the UArizona Cancer Center and professor in the Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health.
"Acknowledging the long history and treatment of disease outside of Western models of medicine is essential to this effort," Hatcher said.
Hatcher's team will spearhead the development of this program, starting with the establishment of an advisory board comprising patients, caregivers and specialists in traditional and Western therapies. With the help of researchers and physician-scientists, they will identify best practices for holistic care for cancer treatment with a focus on underserved communities residing in Arizona, such as Native American and Hispanic populations.
"I want to be able to present patients with a menu of options that we're confident will augment and enhance their healing and recovery journey," Hatcher said.
"This kind of effort is essential to the Cancer Center's mission to provide culturally relevant care to underserved communities that are disproportionately affected by certain cancers," said Joann Sweasy, UArizona Cancer Center director, who holds the Nancy C. and Craig M. Berge Endowed Chair.
The gift is from the estate of Tom and Catherine Culley, longtime residents of the East Coast and worldwide travelers. Tom Culley spent his entire career at Mobil Oil Co., and Catherine Culley was an avid flower gardener who also was well regarded for her quilting and needlework. After Tom's death in 1986, Catherine moved to Arizona to live in Fountain Hills, where she and Tom had wintered. She later resided in Scottsdale. At the age of 100, she met with representatives of the University of Arizona to share her interest in a bequest for Arizona-based cancer research. She died in September 2021 at the age of 103.
The program that the gift will support "really met the mark of measurable social impact we think Cathie would be proud of, including its focus on underserved Arizona populations," said Grace Ann Streifel-Reller, philanthropy strategist for the Culley estate.
"Prior to her death, Cathie made it clear she wanted her legacy to serve Arizona-based cancer research," Streifel-Reller said. She added that, when asked which types of cancer she'd like that research to focus on, Culley said, "Cancer is cancer, and I want it gone."
In alignment with Culley's wishes, the estate is being used to fund three areas of cancer research: prevention, treatment and thrivership. Culley lost her husband, mother and father to cancer, and Culley herself had a bout with skin cancer.
"Research has shown that Native American and Indigenous populations face later diagnosis and lower survival rates due to disparities in cancer care treatment," said Michael D. Dake, senior vice president for the University of Arizona Health Sciences. "This program has the potential to improve the lives of the most vulnerable cancer patients by providing compassionate and culturally sensitive care to promote health and well-being."
"Tom and Catherine P. Culley have created a legacy and we are proud to steward their gift in partnership with the Cancer Center," said John-Paul Roczniak, president and CEO of the University of Arizona Foundation. "Their bequest will support research and programs that help saves lives and will help change the way we approach healing in medicine."
The UArizona Cancer Center, part of UArizona Health Sciences, is the only National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center headquartered in the state of Arizona.
"People from underrepresented populations and underserved communities historically face many difficulties when presented with a cancer diagnosis, and we are grateful to Catherine and Tom Culley for their support of our work to overcome those challenges," said Robert C. Robbins, president of the University of Arizona. "Research into culturally relevant care lights a promising path forward for Arizonans and all populations across the United States for whom traditional medicine and therapies have long supported disease prevention, treatment and survivorship."