Jenni Thompson drove to the Huntsman Cancer Institute in Salt Lake City from Lehi almost daily during the last eight months of her first husband’s life after he was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia, often during heavy traffic.

Later, she was treated for breast cancer at the Huntsman Cancer Institute. Thompson said she would need to pull off at gas stations multiple times along her drive home to Lehi to change frozen caps on her head every 20 minutes — steps she was taking to try to keep her hair during chemotherapy.

Having access to that specialized care in Utah County would have made a big difference to her. She was present Wednesday as the Huntsman Cancer Institute announced plans to build its second comprehensive cancer center in Vineyard.

“Hopefully I never have to use this location, but I’m really happy for people that live in Utah County that they’ll be able to ... get the best care there is in Utah without having to travel as far,” she said.

Thompson’s husband was diagnosed with Li-Fraumeni syndrome, which means he had an almost 100% chance of being diagnosed with cancer in his life, and a 50% chance of passing that on to his children. They were able to work with genetic counselors to do pre-implantation screenings and ensure their triplets did not have that gene mutation, and their oldest son was tested and does not have the disease.

Jenni Thompson smiles as Huntsman Cancer Institute announces plans to develop a cancer center in Utah County in Vineyard on Wednesday, June 21, 2023. Thompson’s husband died of leukemia and she beat breast cancer. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

She said five of the six children in her husband’s family passed away from cancer, and the family has had multiple nieces and nephews pass away as well. Her husband began looking at genetic counseling after a 6-year-old niece was diagnosed with a brain tumor.

Mary Beckerle, CEO of Huntsman Cancer Institute, said the facility is committed to providing a “cancer-free frontier” and this second facility in Utah County is a step in that process.

“No more driving,” she announced, noting that cancer patients in Utah County have collectively made over 35,000 trips in the last year to the Salt Lake facility at the University of Utah to receive care from their cancer specialists.

She spoke about one cancer survivor who reported he traveled over 8,000 miles between Orem and Salt Lake City to obtain care, while working to support a family. Beckerle said patients like him are why they are building the new facility.

“We are here because of you. And because of all of the other patients who have made the trips to Huntsman Cancer Institute to find healing and to find hope,” she said. “We are here today because we are committed to serving a cause greater than ourselves and being part of this great growing community in Utah.”

Beckerle said the plan was called “Project Unite” for the last few years, because it is a commitment and partnership from everyone to work together to improve health.

Huntsman Cancer Institute announces plans to develop a cancer center in Utah County in Vineyard on Wednesday, June 21, 2023. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

$300 million price tag

The Huntsman Cancer Institute estimates it will need $300 million in order to build this new cancer treatment and research facility, and the Huntsman family has already given a large matching donation to start the process.

The family gave $75 million dollars as a matching gift, the largest single gift to this point from the Huntsman Cancer Foundation.

David Huntsman, president and chief operating officer of the Huntsman Foundation, said his father, Jon Huntsman, would have turned 86 on Wednesday. He said his father’s crusade against cancer was not just a goal to fight cancer for the rest of his life, but to fight cancer “until it is eradicated from the face of this world.”

Although his father passed away five years ago, he said the family is still as committed as ever to fighting cancer — and Wednesday’s announcement is just the beginning of a call to action and an invitation for others to participate.

“My dad was an entrepreneur and a risk-taker. We’ll start this process, but it’s going to take all of us to get it done. It’s going to take all of us working together to do it right,” Huntsman said.

Beckerle said something Jon Huntsman once told her has stuck with her: “Mary, cancer moves fast, and we need to move even faster.”

She encouraged people to “move faster” and get the facility funded and built to help Utah communities.

Beckerle also said the Utah Legislature provided a $1 million appropriation to begin the design and planning of the hospital. She thanked everyone for their support.

Utah House Speaker Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, said Wednesday’s event showed multiple different organizations coming together to lead Utah through growth. He said in addressing growth, the best option is to lead rather than react.

“As a state leader, it’s remarkable to me and comforting to me to know that we have leaders that are helping create the future for the state of Utah,” he said.

He said the Huntsman Cancer Institute in Vineyard will bring comfort and confidence to Utahns nearby.

Attendees cheer as Huntsman Cancer Institute announces a new development of a cancer center in Utah County in Vineyard on Wednesday, June 21, 2023. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Vineyard’s community

Huntsman Cancer Institute is committed to growing in places that provide inspiration and hope, Beckerle said, adding that the beautiful location in Vineyard rivals its location on the mountainside in Salt Lake City.

Vineyard was also picked because of its tremendous population growth; 30% of the state’s growth between now and 2060 is expected to be in Utah County, and Vineyard is expected to be the center of much of that growth, Beckerle said.

“We are committed to being where the people are in our community who need us,” she said.

Vineyard Mayor Julie Fullmer said in five years, the city has grown to over 20,000 people, and the city is working to create something phenomenal for the region.

She said the new cancer treatment facility will bring people together for healing in the heart of their community and continue Utah’s efforts to be a front-runner in cancer research.

“Creating a community like this takes people lifting from all across the state. And we really can see that as they’ve lined the seats here today,” she said.

She said the research and treatment will help not only those in Utah County, but the southern regions of Utah as well.

“We believe that the possibilities are endless. The work performed here will save countless lives, connecting services to communities and provide greater access and healing,” Fullmer said.

The new Huntsman Cancer Institute location will be part of an 800-acre site currently being developed called Utah City. Pete Evans, who is helping develop Utah City with Flagship Companies, said they are hoping to develop an area that will revolutionize how Utah views urbanism, creating a holistic lifestyle. He said physical and mental well-being is a big component of that, and they are excited for Huntsman Cancer Institute to be part of the community.

In meetings with the Huntsman Cancer Institute, Evan said he saw their ambitions were identical.

“We wanted to create the best human experience possible by thoughtfully and intentionally building the best overall environment for the people who will be here. We share Huntsman’s ideal of a patient-focused experience, because we’re committed to developing a people-focused community,” Evans said.

Jeanette Bennett, a magazine publisher and community leader in Utah County, said she was really excited when she first heard about this project months ago, more excited than she would be about a shopping mall or a Trader Joe’s.

“I love this community, this community is home, this community is amazing, this community has so many services and so many things to love about it, but one of the things it has not had is the cancer treatment facilities and expertise that’s needed,” she said.

She was diagnosed with cancer in Utah County and transferred to the Huntsman Cancer Institute for more specialized treatment.

Because she was being treated during 2020 and the COVID-19 pandemic, Bennett said she had to attend treatment alone, and would drive all the way to the institute by herself. She said the time away from family and work needed for the travel, and the time and emotional journey during the drive alone were difficult.

With facilities closer, she said it will allow more time for patients to earn money to pay for treatments and spend time with family. She also said the facility will be close to both the freeway and public transportation and in the center of the county.

“This will be a landmark location that the rest of the community can gather around and build around and it’s just going to be amazing,” Bennett said. “It’s physically going to be a beacon of hope.”

She said it will help her have a closer location for scans she will need to do the rest of her life, and be beneficial for multiple others she knows who are dealing with cancer treatment, including the family of a 4-year-old boy in her neighborhood.

“It’s a big day for all of us,” she said.

David Huntsman hugs Mary Beckerle as Huntsman Cancer Institute announces a new development in Utah County in Vineyard on Wednesday, June 21, 2023. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Putting a team together

The Huntsman Cancer Institute is part of the University of Utah, and the university’s president, Taylor Randall, said although they are rivals with Brigham Young University and Utah Valley University on the fields — they are glad to join the same team in the fight against cancer.

“It is my theory that as educational institutions, in the mission of solving cancer, we are greater if we put a team together,” he said.

Randall said the University of Utah brings strengths of cancer researchers and a care system to help people in Utah County, Utah Valley University will bring health professionals to staff the hospital and Brigham Young University will bring talents with statistics and research.

“I believe firmly that our institutions of higher education will mold a completely different model with this single project right here,” Randall said.

Wayne Vaught, acting president of Utah Valley University for the summer, said Wednesday is a monumental day for the community because community health is foundational to overall well-being.

He said the facility will give opportunities for collaboration with their students and faculty, including research projects, clinical rotations and volunteer opportunities. He said UVU has land near the site it plans to develop, and its main campus is just one FrontRunner stop away.