"There should always be a crane building new buildings until this terrible disease cancer has been eradicated," says Huntsman, who sat down with Salt Lake magazine days before last week's dedication of the Huntsman Cancer Institute's $110 million and 156,000-square-foot expansion.
Now the premiere cancer facility in the West, the institute has doubled its patient capacity and expanded its medicine clinics, learning center, survivorship center and infusion wing, among other moves. "When we first started the institute, it was very important for us to let the state of Utah and the United States realize that we were going to continuously expand and keep building both in our research side and clinical side until we found cure for cancer," he says. "So we want to honor those commitments."Former governor and presidential hopeful Jon Huntsman Jr. took a break from his campaign to join his father and more than 500 guests, including cancer survivors and Sen. Orrin Hatch, at the dedication in Salt Lake last week.
Here, Huntsman Sr. opens up about the expansion, his goal of eradicating cancer and why his son has what it takes to lead the United States.
1. Why is it so critical to keep the focus here in Utah rather than opening nationally or globally? "Many of our patients come from all over the world, [and] we’re very honored that the institute is an international facility and brings great credibility to Salt Lake City and Utah… People want care where you have research in the same facility, [and] we’ve chosen this site, this place, this city to build these beautiful facilities because it shows the world that the people of Utah really do care about finding a cure."
2. You've said you want patients to feel like they've walked into the Ritz Carlton when they come to the Huntsman Cancer Institute. Why? "One of the ingredients for healing is the surrounding facilities and environment. If they know they have the best research and clinicians in the world, if they see a facility that looks like Ritz, if the artwork is beautiful and the food is delicious and they can order any time of day or night—all of a sudden they have hope and say, 'I’m going to make it.' And that’s all part of the therapy."
3. Do you think there's enough urgency when it comes to eradicating cancer? "We seem to have our priorities wrong in much of what we do in America. If the average American understood the 550,000 fellow Americas dying every year of cancer, perhaps there would be a greater call to arms. This is the most insidious disease known to man, yet we give it very little attention and money."4. Your son, Jon Huntsman Jr., has gained quite a bit of attention as of late as he makes his presidential bid. Has this elevated the Huntsman Cancer Institute's profile? "I hope so. Jon Jr. was our first president of the Huntsman Cancer Foundation, and I’ve been very proud of what he stands for and his incredible understanding of American and foreign policy. One has to understand that six months ago he was helping resolve the problems of China and all of a sudden he's shifted his focus to the public policy issues of the United States… I know of no other person in the history of the world who understands the Chinese culture, history and politics and, yet, that of the United Staes as much as he does… But he’s had to start from scratch [in the presidential race]. Most of the other candidates have had a year, or two, or three, or four. Mitt’s had six. So John Jr has done a remarkable job."
5. What would you like people to know about him that they don’t know? "Jon Jr. is a great fighter and competitor. Nothing gets him down, and he’s a great optimist. He doesn’t get uptight. Take the last debate they had in Las Vegas. They were kind of shooting at each other and getting upset. You’ll never see him get upset. He’s been an ambassador three times, has seven children and both of his sons at are the U.S. Naval Academy. He’s very cool under fire, [and] I love that about him. I’ve tried, as his father, to test him from time to time, but he’s a very savvy man. The American public just doesn’t know him yet, and that’s the biggest problem. When they get to know John Jr. they’ll recognize what a tremendously talented and capable individual his is. That comes straight from a father."