As they co-chair the 30th annual Gateway for Cancer Research Cures Gala, Chicago philanthropists Richard J and Dr. Stacie J. Stephenson continue their passionate fight to end cancer as we know it.
Dr. Stacie J. and Richard J Stephenson pose together before the 2019 Vino con Stelle, a signature annual event benefiting Gateway for Cancer Research.
He’s the founder and chairman of International Capital Investment Company (ICIC) and Cancer Treatment Centers of America (CTCA); she’s an influential expert in the areas of regenerative, functional, natural and advanced lifestyle medicine, and a noted author and speaker on health and wellness. Together, Barrington Hills residents Richard J and Dr. Stacie J. Stephenson make a seriously dynamic pair—and a powerhouse couple in the world of philanthropy. The prime focus of their shared work? Gateway for Cancer Research, which Richard launched in 1991 and is dedicated to funding phase one and two clinical trials for cancers of all types to accelerate breakthroughs for patients and their families. This month, as they celebrate the 30th anniversary of the organization’s signature Cures Gala on Nov. 13, this power couple shares with us what drives them to give back, and what exciting developments are in store for this organization that they hold so dear.
Why are you so passionate about giving back?
RJS: My parents taught me to live in accordance with a moral code: ‘When you see someone who is less well off than yourself, and you are in a unique position to do something about their plight, without harm to self, family or Lord, you simply step into the opportunity to relieve their burden, as best you can… and just go on about your business.’ We can all give back in some capacity, and I believe doing so is an honor.
SJS: There’s a ripple effect to giving back. One selfless gesture or gift has the potential to ignite a chain of giving and gratitude that can have an unbelievable impact. Helping others as they face an obstacle or hardship is a privilege that should never be ignored. At some point in life, we all need help. Giving back is one of the most basic, yet meaningful, expressions of our shared humanity.
The power couple shares a moment at Gateway for Cancer Research’s disco-themed 2019 Cures Gala.
Why is Gateway for Cancer Research in particular such an important cause for you?
RJS: Gateway for Cancer Research has very personal roots. My foray into fighting cancer and funding the discovery of new cancer treatments stems from my mother’s battle with bladder cancer. My mother was denied lifesaving treatment that was in development at the time of her diagnosis. She died, and soon thereafter the treatment she was refused was approved. Today, someone with her diagnosis is likely to survive. To ensure that her death wasn’t in vain and to bring something good from it, I created Cancer Treatment Centers of America in 1988 to change the face of cancer care. A few years later, in 1991, I formed Gateway for Cancer Research to find and fund the most promising clinical cancer research trials at institutions around the world—bringing to the forefront new treatments and therapies that can spare others the agony that my family endured.
SJS: As a physician, I’ve always recognized and understood that, like the diseases we face, treatments must continue to evolve. Unfortunately, some of the most innovative ideas are never given the chance to help patients due to a lack of research funding needed to conduct the clinical trials that evaluate treatments and prove their efficacy. Gateway for Cancer Research provides an unprecedented opportunity to bring to light the most promising research by funding only early phase clinical cancer trials. Being able to put in motion new cancer treatments that can forever change the face of cancer care is an incredibly worthy endeavor.
“BEING ABLE TO MAKE THIS STATE, THIS CITY AND THIS COMMUNITY BETTER FOR THOSE LIVING HERE TODAY AND FOR GENERATIONS TO COME IS EXTRA SPECIAL.” –RICHARD J STEPHENSON
What do you enjoy most about making a difference in your local community?
RJS: No matter where you look, there’s something in every community that can be made better. The biggest differences come from communities that rally together to make meaningful change. Illinois is home to Stacie and me in every sense of the word. While we may enjoy time in other parts of the country and we love traveling abroad, Illinois has our hearts. Being able to make this state, this city and this community better for those living here today and for generations to come is extra special.
SJS: Being able to strengthen the community in which we live enables us to bear witness to the good that comes from giving. There’s a special sense of satisfaction and achievement in that.
What has been your proudest moment as a philanthropist?
RJS: The realization that it doesn’t end with me. As a father, I’m most proud of the fact that I instilled the same values in my children that my parents did in me. Knowing that my children and grandchildren understand and embrace opportunities to make a difference in people’s lives is confirmation that I’ve done something right.
SJS: My efforts on behalf of Gateway for Cancer Research marry my work and skill as a doctor with my passion for empowering others and improving the lives of patients. Meeting patients whose lives have been made better—often whose lives have been saved—as a result of Gateway’s commitment has changed me on a fundamental level. Beyond my work with Gateway, my volunteer efforts and support of Childhelp has left a permanent mark on my heart. From the moment I was introduced to this incredible organization and those whose lives it saves and transforms, I’ve been in love. Being recognized in 2021 with the Woman of the World distinction is one of my proudest moments.
What’s next for you as we look ahead to 2022?
RJS: The future of Gateway for Cancer Research is beyond bright [and] will be defined by strategic partnerships as we continue charting new courses in the quest to bring about a world in which a cancer diagnosis is no longer feared.
SJS: [We’re also] partnering with individual donors in an entirely new way that gives them an unprecedented seat at the intersection of funding research and fighting cancer. Through Gateway Concierge, we’re giving philanthropists the opportunity to co-design clinical trials. … This breaks the mold of the traditional healthcare and research funding process, but that’s what differentiates Gateway. We’re not afraid to do things differently to net greater returns. The Gateway for Cancer Research Cures Gala is set for Nov. 13; tickets and info at gatewaycr.org/ways-to-give/signature-events
Photography by: BOB & DAWN DAVIS PHOTOGRAPHY & DESIGN