By Emily Williams
Spirits were high at the UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center on the evening of Oct. 24 as supporters and officials gathered for a cocktail party to celebrate this year’s ArtBlink Gala honoree, Kitty Robinson.
Robinson is one of the founding members of the center’s advisory board.
Attending the event were Robinson’s family and friends as well as members of this year’s Director’s Circle, a group that helps raise funds for not just the gala, but the cancer center’s work.
To kick off the event, the center’s new director, Dr. Michael Birrer, paid recognition to Robinson’s years of hard work, which helped set the stage for the future he sees for UAB.
“With the efforts of individuals like Kitty, I think in the next five years we can bring the entire cancer center to the next level,” Birrer said.
“I think that UABCCC is an Alabama treasure and recognized throughout the South. We’d like to take it now to the national level and to the international level – meaning that patients at that other cancer center, over in Texas, will actually come here because they want to see our clinical trials, they want to get our personalized medicines, and they want to get exposed to that transitional science that they can only get here.”
Birrer and his predecessor, Dr. Edward Partridge, both believe the future of cancer treatment is personalized medicine.
“I think this is all very doable,” Birrer said. “But this is not going to be done with moneys from (the) federal government.” He said money needed to support the cancer center comes from private grants and the tireless work of volunteers such as Robinson.
She became involved in creating the board after her father was treated at the cancer center by its founding director, Dr. John Durant.
“He was operated on at another hospital in April, and they said, ‘Now, your daddy isn’t going to be here by Christmas. He’ll be gone.’ So, we brought him down here to UAB, to Dr. Durant, and my daddy lived four more years. That’s why I’m so passionate about our cancer center,” she said.
She and her husband also have each battled cancer.
Partridge said Robinson has improved patient care through her work.
“She has always been passionate about improving the experience of the patients and their families,” he said.
Robinson led efforts to secure rooms at the Essex House downtown for families of patients to stay, which was a precursor to the American Cancer Society’s Hope Lodge.
“A lot of them slept in their cars, if you can imagine. So, we had to do something about that,” she said.
She coaxed Royal Cup to donate free coffee for the radiation and oncology departments, she led efforts to update the nurses’ lounge, and she spearheaded fundraising to help patients pay for their medications.
In addition, she and her fellow founding advisory board members created the now annual Halloween and Christmas parties on the patient floors.
“I can’t tell you how wonderful this place is and what it does. And it’s a wonderful addition to the state of Alabama,” Robinson said. “I know that this devil cancer is almost defeated and dead. I know this because Dr. Partridge told me. And we need to pray and thank God for our wonderful cancer center here.”