Grateful Cancer Survivor Makes Gift to Wilmot Cancer Center

Local businessman Richard T. Bell endows Professorship with $1.5 million gift

January 28, 2011

Richard T. 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 James. P. Wilmot Cancer Center. The gift is given in honor of Yuhchyau Chen, MD, Ph.D., interim chair of the department and a professor of Radiation Oncology at the University of Rochester 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.

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. These 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,” said Richard I. Fisher, M.D., Director of the James P. Wilmot Cancer Center and Vice President of the University of Rochester 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.”

“I always wanted to do something for the Cancer Center,” Bell said. “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.” 

Bell’s ordeal began very 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,” said Bell, founder of North Central Mechanical Company, based in Victor, NY. .  “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.

“The team of doctors at the Wilmot Cancer Center 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, Dr. Chen asked Bell if he would like to meet two other patients of hers who had had similar diagnoses and whom 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 said. “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 Dr. 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 remembers. 

After a grueling eight-week course of treatment that included two one-week stays at Strong Memorial Hospital for chemotherapy and twice a day radiation treatments at the Wilmot Cancer Center for the duration, Bell received good news – he had responded so well to the treatments that follow-up surgery to clear the neck lymph nodes, often the norm, would not be required. Though he had to remain on a feeding tube for 12 months following the completion of his treatment, as part of his recovery he gradually regained his ability to eat and swallow most of his favorite foods with the help of a swallowing coach.

Bell and Dr. Chen shared lunch last summer to celebrate his five-year mark of remaining cancer free.

“We all know how smart she is,” Bell says with a laugh, “but she is a very caring person. You really know that you are in good hands, and really know that she wants you to survive. She made a bad situation so much better. We have become friends.”

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