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Cattlemen for Cancer Research Hero Award

Central Texas organization fights cancer in its own backyard

By Miriam Smith

 From left, Charles Levenback, M.D., nominating patient Coey Zapalac and Kimberly Burns, Levenback's nurse practitioner. Photos by Ken Daughtry

The Cattlemen for Cancer Research (CCR), a group of volunteers united by ranching, a love of community and a commitment to fighting cancer, has given its annual Hero Award to MD Anderson’s Charles Levenback, M.D., and Kimberly Burns, R.N. Their patient, Coey Zapalac, nominated them for the award.

Levenback, a professor in Gynecologic Oncology and Reproductive Medicine and associate chief quality officer for Medical Affairs, and Burns, an advanced nurse practitioner in Gynecologic Oncology, have worked together since 2004. The two accepted the award at the CCR’s 15th annual cattle auction in October, which raised $110,000 to advance research at MD Anderson’s Michale E. Keeling Center for Comparative Medicine and Research in Bastrop. The event also supports the CCR’s patient assistance fund to help neighbors with costs incurred during treatment at MD Anderson in Houston.  

 Levenback and his wife, Ginny, high five over their purchase of two calves at the 2013 Cattlemen for Cancer Research fundraiser. One of the calves was a registered Longhorn heifer.

Levenback says the CCR honor, created in 2010 to recognize outstanding contributions to the care of patients from Central Texas, was a “wonderful surprise.”

“Coey’s from Central Texas, and I’m from New York,” he says. “But the whole cancer experience brought us together. Being able to help her was extremely rewarding.”

Burns treated Zapalac alongside Levenback.

“Coey and I immediately connected,” said Burns. “She had a positive attitude from the beginning. It’s a true honor that she nominated Dr. Levenback and me for the Hero Award.”

Zapalac is cancer-free some 23 months after beginning treatment, and she credits Levenback and Burns for her successful outcome.

“I know that they and the prayers of so many are the reason I’m here today,” she says. “I go to MD Anderson every three months and am so thankful to see them both each time. MD Anderson is fortunate to have two such outstanding clinicians. They deserve to be honored every day for what they do for patients like me.”

CCR began in 1999, combining the love of ranching with the commitment to fighting cancer. The organization has raised more than $1.6 million to date.


© 2014 The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center