Armstrong visit prompts surprise Huntsman announcement

By Carlos Mayorga

Two prominent cancer survivors, cyclist Lance Armstrong and Huntsman Cancer Institute founder Jon M. Huntsman, met with cancer patients at the Huntsman Cancer Institute and discussed plans for a major expansion of the facility Wednesday afternoon.

After the two met with patients, Huntsman made a surprise announcement that financing has been completed to double the size of the Huntsman Cancer Institute, which should be completed by 2011.

“I’m letting the cat out of the bag here, but we will announce the doubling of the hospital,” Huntsman told reporters after the visit. An official announcement will be made as early as next week.

Armstrong was in town for another engagement in Salt Lake City and decided to set aside some time to visit the cancer institute.

“I’ve heard so much about the institute here from Mr. Huntsman,” Armstrong said. “You can’t really appreciate it until you come here and walk the halls and meet the patients.”

Armstrong, who founded the Lance Armstrong Foundation in 1997 while undergoing treatment for testicular cancer, said he was impressed with the look and feel of the facility.

“This doesn’t look like a hospital,” Armstrong said. “When you go through a hospital and it looks like a factory, it’s not a great way to start a fight.”

Armstrong fought cancer in the mid-1990s from which he would eventually recover and win seven consecutive Tours de France. Now in retirement from cycling, Armstrong works more closely with his foundation, which seeks to raise awareness and be a resource for people with cancer.

“I’ve completely shifted my focus,” Armstrong said. “To fight this fight the most efficiently as I can, I have to put all my focus into it.”

Armstrong and Huntsman met with patients in the facility’s infusion suite, which is where people diagnosed with cancer receive chemotherapy treatment.

“You just get a different sense walking through an infusion room,” Armstrong said. “There’s not a lot you can tell them, and they don’t want to hear a lot. They just want to tell you their stories.”

The visit left many patients in the normally quiet infusion suite smiling.

“I think it was a wonderful thing they did,” said Frank Acton of Tooele, a patient who met Armstrong and Huntsman while receiving his first treatment for cancer.

Phyllis Acton, who came to support her husband with the treatment, said Armstrong’s visit gave her hope that her husband would get better.

“You can beat it (cancer),” Phyllis Acton said. “I didn’t really think you could, but I see a lot of hope now.”

Michelle Brownell, who has been a nurse in the infusion clinic for a year, said that patients were touched after sharing their stories with Armstrong.

“I could see the entire room light up with smiles,” Brownell said. “It made them feel a connection between their own situation and sorrows with someone else, and that lifted their spirits.”

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