$10 million frat pledge to Huntsman brings new generation into cancer research

In In The News by Barbara Jacoby


From: desertnews.com

Brandon Plewe was young and active, newly married and had just received an advanced degree, but his body was deteriorating and he didn’t know why.

“I had this back pain and was getting cortisone shots, but it wasn’t getting better,” he said, adding that the pain seemed to get worse and worse as the days went by.

A string of exams, blood tests and referrals later and Plewe found himself being admitted at the Huntsman Cancer Institute in Salt Lake City, receiving aggressive doses of chemotherapy for multiple myeloma — a cancer found in the bone marrow throughout his body.

“I was scared and in tons of pain,” Plewe said. He’d lost 5 inches in height and every vertebrae of his spine was broken. “It was eating away at my bones.”

Flashback about six months and the then-26-year-old Sigma Chi fraternity member said he didn’t have a clue what “one of the finest cancer treatment facilities in the country” could offer someone like him.

Plenty of young people like Plewe don’t typically have cause to think about cancer, but earlier this week, about 17,000 members of an international college fraternity pledged to do their part to end the disease.

“We are the next generation to eliminate cancer,” Sigma Chi Fraternity Grand Consul Mike Greenberg said. “There’s no amount of money that is too great to raise.”

Fraternal commitment

Sigma Chi, with chapters at 243 colleges and universities and more than 241,000 alumni members, has announced plans to raise $10 million for the Huntsman Cancer Institute over the next seven years. It’s the largest fraternal commitment to one single organization on record, but Huntsman Cancer Institute founder Jon M. Huntsman Sr. said it is worth much more than the money.

“It has changed the fraternity world from a social organization to an organization that is totally committed to the betterment of mankind,” he said. “They want to help others and be the purveyors of good deeds.”

Huntsman said that during his college days, fraternities were more into pranks and parties, so he’s “thrilled” to have Sigma Chi involved in the ongoing and promising research at the Huntsman Cancer Institute.

The fraternity’s decision to partner with the facility, he said, wasn’t made lightly.

The Huntsman Cancer Institute, which was founded in 1995, was recently ranked third most beautiful of about 11,000 cancer treatment centers across the country, and it is one of just 41 facilities in the United States that has received a federal National Institutes of Health designation as a comprehensive cancer care center, delivering cutting-edge research, clinical care and educational services.

It also maintains a 99 percent patient-approval rating, according to Huntsman.

But Huntsman said he thinks the “service-oriented” youths of today are committed to making the world a better place by eradicating cancer altogether, which happens to be the mission of the Institute as well.

“When you see wonderful young people jumping in and fighting cancer, you know that we’re going to overcome it,” Huntsman, a four-time cancer survivor, told the Deseret News. “We’re going to win. We’re going to beat this disease.”