For the Next Breakthrough

With a gift from his will, Charles R. Cook is looking ahead to future prostate cancer treatments

As a CPA, Charles R. “Rick” Cook channeled his training into a high-flying career in the health care industry. Rising through the ranks, the Jacksonville, Florida, native was eventually named President of UnitedHealthcare’s Southern Division, where he oversaw major health plans covering 12 states across the south and midwest.

“I absolutely thrived in the health care field,” he said. “I always enjoyed working with physicians and hospital executives.”

Charles R. Cook
Charles R. Cook Provided by Charles R. Cook

But behind the 30-year string of professional successes, he harbored a secret – one that compelled him to retire early at age 53. His father had died of prostate cancer. Because the disease may have a genetic factor, Mr. Cook was concerned that he, too, would die a slow and painful death from the condition.

The next years were spent hiking, travelling the world, practicing yoga, and attending silent meditation retreats. But Mr. Cook’s post-retirement life was interrupted in 2012 by persistent pain in his lower back. After a Dallas urologist performed a biopsy on his prostate, the resulting pathology report was grim: it was an extremely aggressive form of prostate cancer.

“That doctor was a real straight shooter,” Mr. Cook said, recalling how the urologist told him the cancer was likely to spread and would probably be fatal.

For the next steps in his treatment, Mr. Cook sought one of the country’s top urologists, Claus Roehrborn, M.D., Chair of UT Southwestern Medical Center’s Department of Urology and Professor of Urology. Dr. Roehrborn performed a robotic prostate removal surgery. A few months after receiving radiation treatments, the pain returned. An MRI scan revealed the cancer had aggressively spread to Mr. Cook's spine.

Claus Roehrborn
Claus Roehrborn, M.D. TJ Maher/UT Southwestern Medical Center
Kevin Courtney
Kevin Courtney, M.D. Mei-Chun Jau/UT Southwestern Medical Center

In need of a highly skilled oncologist, Mr. Cook met with Kevin Courtney, M.D., Ph.D., an Associate Professor of Internal Medicine in UT Southwestern’s Division of Hematology and Oncology, who co-leads the Harold C. Simmons Comprehensive Cancer Center's Genitourinary Oncology Disease Oriented Team.

“I thought of Dr. Courtney as the quarterback of my cancer care team,” Mr. Cook said. “It’s been nine years that I’ve been with him, and throughout, he’s shown a rare combination of prodigious skills, care, and compassion.”

Dr. Courtney led a team of cancer specialists and a spine surgeon as they removed tumors, conducted a battery of imaging scans, and administered almost 20 additional radiation treatments to treat Mr. Cook’s cancer. Neuro-oncologists checked Mr. Cook’s spinal fluid to see if cancerous cells had spread to his central nervous system. Fortunately, the treatments had isolated the cancer’s spread to his spinal column.

During his long treatment journey, there were times Mr. Cook worried the team would “become worn out and frustrated.”

“My biggest fear was Dr. Courtney would leave UT Southwestern – or retire, but thankfully I was saved by his dedicated preparedness.” Mr. Cook said. “Bottom line, I’ve always trusted him with my life.”

Backing research

Mr. Cook’s experiences at UT Southwestern moved him to make a gift from his will to Southwestern Medical Foundation to support Dr. Courtney’s prostate cancer research and future clinical trials. In recognition of his gift, Mr. Cook was welcomed into The Heritage Society, an organization honoring donors who make a gift from their will to benefit UT Southwestern or Southwestern Medical Foundation.

“Dr. Courtney’s trials need infrastructure in order to develop new therapies,” Mr. Cook said. “What I’m really hoping for is that he might develop advanced clinical trials yielding novel ways to treat prostate cancer.”

“I'm convinced that if I hadn't found Dr. Courtney and received his treatment, I wouldn't be here to have witnessed the birth of my three grandkids.”

The gift was an opportunity to help others and express his gratitude to the physician who led his cancer treatment.

“I just wanted to help Dr. Courtney,” he said. “I'm convinced that if I hadn’t found Dr. Courtney and received his treatment, I wouldn’t be here to have witnessed the birth of my three grandkids.”

Mr. Cook’s support will enable Dr. Courtney to apply these crucial research funds to support the efforts of physician scientists, research nurses, and clinical data specialists as they team up on clinical trials that could pave the way to new therapies for prostate cancer. And with limited industry and government funding available for early phase clinical trials, philanthropic gifts are especially impactful.

“I’m grateful to Mr. Cook for his extraordinary generosity,” Dr. Courtney said. “We will be able to use these funds to advance UT Southwestern’s clinical and translational research into prostate cancer – all of which could lead to promising future treatment options.”

For an executive who spent a career working with physicians to help take care of others, Mr. Cook found it a fitting way to come full circle.

"This is easily one of the best ways to give back,” he said.

  • Dr. Roehrborn holds the E.E. Fogelson and Greer Garson Fogelson Distinguished Chair in Urology, and the S.T. Harris Family Chair in Medical Science, in Honor of John D. McConnell, M.D.