Chapmans empower cancer patients through their gift of strength

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Kim and Jeff Chapman are thrilled to help cancer patients and their families through a gift to the Harold C. Simmons Comprehensive Cancer Center at UT Southwestern.

By Sharon Reynolds

Their own personal tragedies have led Kim and Jeff Chapman to discover that giving to others is the key to their happiness. Their $250,000 gift to the Harold C. Simmons Comprehensive Cancer Center at UT Southwestern Medical Center will serve as a guiding light for cancer patients and their families as they maneuver the difficult cancer journey.

The Chapmans were both born and raised in Des Moines, Iowa, and both attended Valley High School. They have had many coincidences in their lives through crossover friendships and family. Yet their paths did not intersect until 2013, soon after Mr. Chapman lost Sheila, his wife of 32 years, to pancreatic cancer. Mrs. Chapman’s late husband, Randy Cain, passed away from brain cancer just one year earlier. Because of their similar experiences of losing a spouse at a young age, a mutual friend introduced them as a possible source of solace to one another.

“I thought I was helping Jeff get through the grieving process,” said Mrs. Chapman. “We struck up a friendship that led to more. Here I am now in Dallas, married again. I never imagined that I would find happiness again, much less with somebody with a similar background.”

Mr. Chapman said that going through cancer as a patient or a spouse of a cancer patient is a life transforming experience and changes you forever.

“Kim is a miracle in my life,” he said. “We had so much in common and understood each other so well and so quickly. She and I were both changed by the experience of taking care of our beloved spouses, which connected us to each other in a very powerful way.”

As nurse practitioner by profession, Mrs. Chapman’s spent the last six years of her practice in a vein clinic within a cardiology practice. Her interest in oncology patient advocacy deepened after her late husband was diagnosed with brain cancer in 2010. 

“When Randy was ill, I was knowledgeable enough in health care and disease and took it upon myself to research his illness,” she said. “But I often wondered how patients managed their illness without a medical knowledge base and with nobody in their corner. How do they navigate the system from the second they get their diagnosis to understanding what the diagnosis is – and to knowing where to go for support? It kept me up at night.”

The Chapmans hope their gift will help strengthen and give hope to thousands of cancer patients and their families. 

As a volunteer for the Simmons Cancer Center, Mrs. Chapman distributes books to cancer patients and is pictured here with Rosa Pena (left).

“The most difficult part of being a caregiver was trying to be the strong person, knowing that my husband was terminal,” said Mrs. Chapman. “I needed to be a positive force when he was struggling. Trying to remain positive was difficult. There are so many community resources available, and it’s important to make sure the patient and the caregiver have knowledge of all of those services.”

After moving to Dallas in 2014, Mrs. Chapman began volunteering at the Simmons Cancer Center at UT Southwestern. She had always enjoyed patient advocacy and felt a strong desire to do more. The Chapman’s gift will enhance patient navigation and community outreach services to support families. Mrs. Chapman is helping to establish a new Patient and Family Advisory Council (PFAC) to ensure that patient and family voices are heard in the ongoing enhancement of the entire patient experience. The PFAC will be comprised of Simmons Cancer Center leadership and key staff, as well as past and present cancer patients and caregivers who will be instrumental in helping create an inclusive support program.

“The Chapmans’ gift provides a foundation of support that will enable us to help our patients and their families as they cope with the challenges of the journey through cancer care,” said Dr. Daniel K. Podolsky, President of UT Southwestern. “Their generosity enables us to set new standards for excellence in patient-centric care and will help ensure that when it comes to health care, UT Southwestern is second to none.”

Dr. Thomas Froehlich, Professor of Internal Medicine who serves as Medical Director of the Simmons Cancer Center, said, “The most informed voices on the care team are those of the patient and family. The PFAC will help us examine delivery of care through the eyes of patients and families so that we can provide medical care to the best of our ability. Patients and caregivers will have an amplified voice, from designing physical space to developing programs and support services.”

With 13 major cancer care programs, the Simmons Cancer Center provides patient-focused treatments for more than three dozen types of cancer and offers research-based, innovative cancer care and clinical trials, as well as early detection, survivorship, and outreach services. In 2015, the Simmons Cancer Center was awarded comprehensive designation from the National Cancer Institute (NCI), becoming one of three such top-tier institutions in the state and the only one in North Texas. It is one of only 30 U.S. cancer research centers to be designated by the NCI as a National Clinical Trials Network Lead Academic Participating Site.

Mr. Chapman came to Dallas in 1983 with Sheila, who battled breast cancer in 1991 and passed away from pancreatic cancer in 2011. He is grateful for the care she received at UT Southwestern.

“During the two years she survived, Sheila was in the hospital dozens of times,” he said. “We really grew to appreciate everything about UT Southwestern and to love her doctors and nurses. She lived two years largely because of the support she received from the entire staff. I can very confidently say that no contribution that I’ve ever made in my adult life has ever had as much impact as the contributions I’ve made to UT Southwestern.”

With their gift, the Chapmans hope that every oncology patient and caregiver at UT Southwestern feels supported and loved. Mr. Chapman said he is confident that his wife will become a strong advocate for others. “Kim has a smile that brightens everyone’s day. She’ll be doing all sorts of things as part of the program, but the thing that she’ll do best is interact with patients and their families. She is impossible not to like and makes everyone feel better.”

Dr. Podolsky holds the Philip O’Bryan Montgomery, Jr., M.D. Distinguished Presidential Chair in Academic Administration, and the Doris and Bryan Wildenthal Distinguished Chair in Medical Science.