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February 16, 2011

Grateful cancer survivor makes gift to Wilmot Cancer Center

Local businessman Richard Bell endows professorship with $1.5 million gift

Richard BellRichard Bell is celebrating his triumph over cancer with a gift of $1.5 million that will be used to establish the Richard T. Bell Endowed Professorship in the Department of Radiation Oncology at the Wilmot Cancer Center. The gift is given in honor of Yuhchyau Chen, interim chair of the department and a professor of radiation oncology at the School of Medicine and Dentistry, who treated Bell. It will be used to support research activities in clinical cancer and radiation oncology, and to retain and recruit new faculty to further strengthen the department.

“I always wanted to do something for the cancer center,” Bell says. “I wanted to do it while I was alive and healthy, not as a part of my will after I passed away. And, I wanted it to be a tribute not only to Dr. Chen, but to all the nurses and technicians who treated me. The people in the radiation oncology program were the most caring people I had ever dealt with. They weren’t just doing their job; they cared deeply about you and went the extra mile to make sure you were as comfortable as possible. Every day the entire staff at the cancer center was full of encouragement and kindness.”

Endowed professorships are awarded to faculty who are viewed as having demonstrated exceptional vision and services critical to the missions of their fields and institutions. The awards are one of the highest honors bestowed by the academic community.

“A donor-funded professorship is a valuable resource that supports our clinical, research and education efforts,” says Richard Fisher, director of the Wilmot Cancer Center and vice president of the Medical Center. “As other sources of funding decline given the turbulent economy of recent years, endowed professorships are an extremely important resource that strengthens and secures the future of our programs.”

Bell’s ordeal began late in 2004, when he noticed a lump in his neck during the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day. Following the holidays, he went to his primary care physician, who immediately sent him to see an oncologist. He was diagnosed with stage IV throat cancer that began in one of his tonsils and extended to the back of the throat, the larynx, the base of the tongue, and multiple lymph nodes in the neck—devastating news for the father of three.

“This was serious cancer, it was like a bombshell had been dropped on me,” says Bell, founder of North Central Mechanical Company, based in Victor. “The first thing I did was call my accountant and lawyer to begin to get my things in order. The hardest thing was telling my sons and daughter.”

His team of doctors laid out an aggressive course of treatment.

“I had the financial resources to go and get treatment anywhere I chose, however the thought of leaving my family and friends scared me almost as much as the cancer itself. After several tests and meetings with the doctors, I decided that staying home and being treated at the Wilmot Cancer Center was my best choice. Thank God I made that decision.”

Before his treatments began, Chen asked Bell if he would like to meet two other patients who had had similar diagnoses and were doing well. He agreed, and went to each of their homes to visit with them and heard their stories. Their stories were positive and inspiring and started to change the way Bell thought.

“It got me thinking I could beat this,” he says. “They did it, so could I. You look for anything to grab that might give you hope, and these guys gave me hope.”

Another source of hope and inspiration throughout his entire ordeal was the constant encouragement of Chen and the nurses and technicians who treated him.

“Although I looked bad and felt worse, they would constantly tell me how well I was responding to the treatment,” Bell says.

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