Patient Care

Local Businessman to Receive Inspiration Award from Wilmot Cancer Center

May. 18, 2011
Richard T. Bell to be honored at 12th annual Discovery Ball May 21st
Inspiration Award honoree Richard T. Bell

Richard T. Bell, a throat cancer survivor who used his experience as a patient to “pay it forward” and help others facing cancer diagnosis and treatment, will be honored with the Inspiration Award at the James P. Wilmot Cancer Center’s 12th annual Discovery Ball. The elegant, black-tie optional event begins at 6:00 p.m., Saturday, May 21, at the Robert B. Wegman Conference Facility, located at 200 Wegman’s Market Street – off Chili Avenue and across from Westside Drive.

The Inspiration Award is the Wilmot Cancer Center’s highest honor and is presented annually to an individual who has helped cancer patients and their families have hope for the future. Bell, who was diagnosed with Stage IV throat cancer in early 2005, is being honored for his warm and caring support of a number of other cancer patients.

One of the individuals for whom Bell provided support and inspiration is Gregory Smith, president and chief operating officer for Jay Advertising and a Wilmot Cancer Center National Advisory Board member.

Smith remembers feeling a lump in his neck in late October 2009. “I had not seen or felt anything there before, and I had a funny feeling about this,” Smith recalled. Subsequent trips to his primary care doctor and oncologist confirmed his suspicions. He was diagnosed with throat cancer.

“I knew Dick, but we weren’t particularly close,” Smith said. “I’ll never forget the day the doorbell rang and Dick was standing at my door. He said ‘I’m here to help you get through this.’”

“Dick and I had the exact same thing (throat cancer) and he knew what I would be going through and took time to explain some of the things he had done wrong as a patient. This guy was awesome, he was so good to me, and it was all without fanfare,” Smith said.

“I am not afraid to say I love this guy (Bell). I will never forget the fantastic gift he’s given me.”

But Bell’s giving did not end there. He 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, 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 him. 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. His gift will help improve cancer care for others for years to come.

“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 Wilmot Cancer Center and Vice President of the University of Rochester Medical Center.

“As important as his monetary gift is, however, it pales in comparison to the positive impact he has had on other patients. It is his caring and compassionate ability and willingness to reach out to others that make him an inspiration to all of us at the Wilmot Cancer Center.”

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.

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.

“I am inspired by Dick’s strength in fighting cancer, but also by his selflessness in helping others and making his incredible gift,” adds Bob Kessler, current chair of the Wilmot Cancer Center National Advisory Board who, with his wife, Sue, also chaired this year’s Discovery Ball.