Hope Springs Eternal

HEALING

HOPE SPRINGS ETERNAL
The Story of Two Men

Jon M. Huntsman and wife Karen of Salt Lake City recently donated $100 million to the Huntsman Cancer Institute at the University of Utah. They believe it is the largest cash contribution ever for medical research. Their goal is to find a cure for cancer.

The money will be used to buy high-tech lab equipment, set up clinics and attract the world’s greatest medical minds to the Utah center. Under the direction of geneticist Dr. Raymond White the focus will be on finding the genetic origins of cancer. “Utah has really become a world center for this kind of human genetics activity,” White says. “A lot has to do with the focus created by the medical center here, but beyond that, there is a kind of natural resource opportunity for human genetics to be found in the Utah families.”

Many Utah families, especially Mormon families like Huntsman’s, are large. And Mormons keep great family records. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints maintains the Family History Library, the largest genealogical library in the world, in Salt Lake City. “Our gene-identification technologies depend on being able to follow the damaged gene, the one causing disease, through multigenerational families,” White says.

Huntsman’s own family history provides a clue to his drive to cure cancer. His adored mother “died in my arms with breast cancer,” he says, after “she drifted down to a skeleton of herself. And my dad suffered through prostate cancer in the later part of his life.” Huntsman, too, had prostate cancer in 1992, then cancer of the mouth in 1993. Cancer, he says, is a “ruthless” disease.

He now thinks the time is right for a cure. “Between the genealogical records we have available, the scientists we have and the breakthroughs that have happened in the last five years, add these together and I believe, I’m willing to bank everything we have on it, that we will make breakthroughs in the next five years.”

In 1964 at the age of 36, Leon Fleisher was widely regarded as among the finest American pianists of his generation. Then he began to notice a problem. The little finger on his right hand felt weak. Although he practiced harder and longer, within 10 months the rest of his right hand was curled under, and remained that way for 30 years.

Through those three decades, doctors never had a clue how to cure him. “I tried everything, “ he says. “Cortisone shots, X-rays where they shoot dye into your spinal column to see if there are any vertebrae that are impinging on a nerve; nerve induction tests where they stick needles into the nerves in your hand and then shock you and time the speed of response. Great stuff.”

He also tried medications: L-Dopa, the drug that gives temporary relief to Parkinson’s patients, and Botulinum - a form of poison that causes botulism - that was supposed to relax the muscles. When conventional treatment failed, Fleisher turned to alternative therapies: hypnosis, acupuncture, biofeedback. He even spent a few weeks attending est seminars. When doctors suggested the problem might be psychosomatic, he went to a psychiatrist. “I didn’t believe that,” he says, “buy they’ve got you coming and going.”

Then last February his wife, Katherine Jacobson, a pianist who is a music professor at Goucher College in Baltimore, persuaded him to try a form of deep connective tissue massage called Rolfing, which she had been using to enhance her flute playing. Fleisher, who believes he had never properly “de-contracted” his finger muscles after strenuous practice sessions by stretching and rest, felt his right hand begin to loosen after only three sessions. “I manipulated the connection tissue of his hand, arm, and wrist using my fingers, knuckles, sometimes my elbow,” says Tessy Brungardt, his Rolfer. “The tissue in his arm started to get softer.”

In April 1995, he resumed playing two-handed with the Washington-based Theater Chamber Players, a group he had cofounded in 1968. When longtime friend Andre Previn heard Fleisher play at the Tanglewood Music Center last summer, where Fleisher is artistic director, the conductor suggested that he play with him at Carnegie Hall. And so he did January 13th.

Fleisher says he had grown through his ordeal, rising above self pity to find real happiness in teaching and a successful career in conducting. “Before, I was just a two-handed piano player,” he says. “What happened to me has expanded my life, my awareness, my humanity.”

–from Wholistic Health and Healing Guide, 1998. [Huntsman reported in USA Today, Fleisher in People Magazine]


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