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‘Forever Irene’ Symbolizes Survivor’s Resilience

Hunsicker, an avid gardener, says the naming of 'Forever Irene' has been truly humbling.

A recent spring morning found cancer survivor Irene Hunsicker on familiar territory, at MD Anderson, where she’s been a patient for 10 years. But on this day there were no doctor’s appointments, no treatments, no tests to endure.
She came to dig in the dirt.

With garden shovels at the ready, Hunsicker and her oncologist, Barbara Pro, M.D., associate professor and T cell lymphoma team leader at MD Anderson, greeted a gathering of well-wishers and prepared to plant a rose bush in the institution’s garden near the entrance to Clark Clinic. Not just any garden-variety rose, the latest addition is ‘Forever Irene’, whose name was the winning entry in a contest sponsored by the Houston Chronicle.
The fragrant, deep-pink rose is a hardy repeat-bloomer that symbolizes the resilience of its namesake. Hunsicker has been diagnosed with three cancers over the past decade, most recently angioimmunoblastic T cell lymphoma, a rare, aggressive disease.
On hand for the planting were Jean and Mike Shoup, owners of the Antique Rose Emporium in Independence, Texas. Shoup bred ‘Forever Irene’ by crossing the disease-resistant ‘Carefree Beauty’ with ‘Granny Grimmets’, an old garden rose known for its color and fragrance.

The Antique Rose Emporium is contributing a portion of ‘Forever Irene’ sales to a fund in honor of Hunsicker supporting Pro’s research in T cell lymphoma.
A book signing and rose sale immediately following the rose planting enabled passersby to purchase ‘Forever Irene’ for their own gardens as well as Houston Chronicle lifestyle editor Molly Glentzer’s “Pink Ladies and Crimson Gents: Portraits and Legends of 50 Roses,” with a portion of book sales going to the research fund.
Hunsicker’s friends and family launched a letter-writing campaign to name the rose after her. They suggested several names until husband Jerry, senior vice president of the Tampa Bay Rays and former Houston Astros general manager, came up with the winner.
Hunsicker, an avid gardener, says the naming of ‘Forever Irene’ has been “truly humbling.”
“It’s amazing. Famous people have roses named after them, and this really touched my heart,” says Hunsicker, whose disease is in remission. “After three cancers, one metastasis and being in and out of remission over the course of 10 years, you have to have amazing support. My family and friends are my circle of life.”

Planned Gift Demonstrates Nurse’s Will to Do the Right Thing

Inveterate traveler Melissa Gilhart says it’s important that her will reflects her personal values. Through a planned gift to MD Anderson, she’s got the wheels in motion. Photo courtesy of Melissa Gilhart

Spend five minutes with Melissa Gilhart, and you feel you’re with a friend. Maybe it’s the twinkle in her eyes. Or her contagious smile as she speaks passionately about what’s important to her. Perhaps it’s the impression that she’s far wiser than her 46 years after more than a decade of traveling the world.
Gilhart has been to all seven continents since 1995, but not, she admits, to “all the countries.” She’s working on that by immersing herself in the communities she visits: biking to rural areas and small towns, spending time with villagers and absorbing their languages bit by bit. Whether hanging out on a beach in Croatia or spending time with schoolchildren in Vietnam, Gilhart travels to learn more about people and their cultures.
Gilhart came to work as a clinical nurse at MD Anderson for a similar reason.
“The people who come here from all over the world for cancer care are inspirational,” she says. “Many travel thousands of miles from home, and they say that they’re lucky they have such a great place to come for treatment.”
She works with some of the youngest of these inspirations, spending most of her nursing hours at the Children’s Cancer Hospital at MD Anderson.
There it became clear to Gilhart that she wanted to give more than just time. She’s taken her commitment to cancer patient care a major step further by including the institution in her estate plan. Gilhart has tailored her will to include a fund created to help cancer patients who travel from other countries to MD Anderson.
“MD Anderson’s values match mine,” she says. “I’m a ‘third-world country’ traveler. The people in those countries are survivors. Our patients are survivors, too.”
Cancer has had a significant impact on Gilhart’s life, extending beyond her occupation to her own diagnosis of breast cancer. She lost her mother to brain cancer in 1981.
“My cancer experience has made me realize what people go through,” she says.
Convinced that “too few people have wills,” Gilhart is determined to educate others on the importance of estate planning.
“It’s a way to make sure that the things that are important to you now remain significant after you’re gone,” she says. “People need to sit down and have a talk with their loved ones, and then they need to act on it.”
She stresses the value of thinking about planned giving while young.
“My aunt has been gone for four years, and we’re still in probate because she didn’t have a will,” she says. “You’re never too young or too busy to have a will.”
While Gilhart’s excursions have her flying around the world, her resolve to ensure her legacy remains grounded.
“Having a will is so easy,” she says. “It’s just the right thing to do.”
Learn more about planned giving at


Golfers Get in the Swing for S.C.O.P.E.

Candy Winter celebrates her husband’s memory with, from left, Eldon Rude, Peter Baer and Tim Miller at the recent David C. Winter Memorial Golf Tournament at Tour 18 Houston. Photo by Richard Hudgens

The American Cancer Society ranks colorectal cancer as the third most common cancer in men and women and the second leading cause of cancer death. The David C. Winter Charitable Foundation is dedicated to changing those statistics by helping educate the public about the importance of regular colonoscopies.

Representatives of the foundation presented a $25,000 check at the March 28 Sprint for Colorectal Oncology Prevention and Education (S.C.O.P.E.) fun run/walk. The foundation, 2009 underwriter for S.C.O.P.E. awareness and community education initiatives, raises funds through an annual golf tournament at Tour 18 Houston.

This year’s David C. Winter Memorial Golf Tournament, held April 16, attracted 126 players — friends, family and colleagues of the Colt International executive who died at 53 of colorectal cancer in 2006.

“If we could get every person in this room to realize that a simple procedure can save lives, what a significant accomplishment in David’s honor that would be,” said Malcolm Hawkins, president of Colt International.

Candy Winter, David’s wife of 25 years, and daughter Ashley, 23, were on hand to reinforce the importance of education and early detection. A colonoscopy might have detected David’s cancer sooner, they both agreed. Instead, he was diagnosed at Stage IV. His widow and daughter now include regular screenings as a part of their health plans.

“We were overwhelmed by the donations this year,” said Candy of the third annual event, as players from Canada, Florida, Iowa, Arizona, Colorado and across Texas browsed silent auction items such as a UT Longhorns 2005 National Championship helmet signed by Vince Young and an NFL football autographed by Hall of Fame coach Don Shula. “David would be blown away at this show of love and support. We’ll continue this forever.”

Participants enjoyed a mild spring afternoon playing a course designed after some of the most well-known holes in golf.

“We talked about what David would want,” said Joel Purdom, Colt International CEO. “He was an avid golfer and such a people person. He’d smile and be very proud that we’re doing this.”

Sponsors included Colt International, Cyberlink ASP, Pegasus Flight Support, Events & More, Piatto Ristorante, FBO Logistics, Frank Crystal & Company, Shell Aviation, Carrabba’s and Global Ground Transport. Sports broadcaster John Granato of 1560 AM KGOW’s “The Game” served as honorary chair.

Tournament organizers anticipate a full field of 144 players for next year’s event, April 15, 2010, at Tour 18.


Pet Burro Goes to the Top of the Class in South Carolina

Robin Polasek, a Spanish teacher at Buist Academy in Charleston, S.C., enlisted the help of her pet burro to follow through on a unique fundraiser inspired by husband Daniel’s care at MD Anderson. Photo by Marie Barber

The “Kiss the Burro” challenge at Buist Academy in Charleston, S.C., deserves an A-plus for originality.

Teacher Robin Polasek and her husband, Daniel, raised $3,000 for the Children’s Cancer Hospital at MD Anderson, with help from a miniature donkey, several classes of hard-working elementary school students and a company with a matching donations policy.

Daniel was diagnosed with melanoma in August 2007. Doctors at home told him he had months to live, but the couple refused to believe they would have such a short time left together. That’s why they came to MD Anderson.

While Daniel received treatment, says Robin, the courage of other patients, especially children, gave her a new outlook.

She started making plans for a fundraiser. A woman who owns miniature donkeys offered to give Robin a burro for free. The Polaseks named the burro Wen-Jen after Daniel’s oncologist, Wen-Jen Hwu, M.D., Ph.D., professor of melanoma medical oncology.

Robin challenged the classes at Buist Academy to raise $50 each. In return, the teacher for that class would have to kiss the burro. The idea was a big hit, and students eagerly accepted the challenge.

One parent saw firsthand the impact on her son, a student in Robin’s Spanish class. Marie Barber says she was amazed by his desire to do chores in exchange for money to contribute to the cause.

When the big day came, the school had raised $1,500. A special assembly gave students the opportunity to watch 25 teachers and the school principal make good on their promise and, one by one, kiss the burro.

Barber, who works for Bristol-Myers Squibb, checked her company’s matching donations policy and filled out the necessary paperwork, bringing the total to $3,000.


Energy Leader Helps Fight Cancer

Halliburton has long been known as a leader in the energy industry, but now its employees are taking the initiative to tackle cancer as well.

Through an annual giving campaign, Halliburton employees have chosen MD Anderson as their No. 1 charity of choice — out of 930 possible charities.

Each year, Halliburton employees participate in the company’s “Giving Choices” program, and Halliburton matches their contributions by 10 percent. This year, the corporation plans to give more than $155,000 to the institution.

“Halliburton has a commitment and core value of being a good corporate citizen and neighbor in the communities where our employees live and work,” says Mabel Menefee, manager of community relations at Halliburton. “We’re pleased to be able to partner with employees to support MD Anderson.”

Promise - Summer 2009

© 2015 The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center