/ by UK HealthCare
Kentucky native Jack Hillard was no stranger to hospitals growing up. His early patient experiences spurred an interest in healthcare and led him to a career path that allowed him to make an impact in the lives of other patients.
“Nearly all of my career has been spent at the intersection of healthcare and politics,” said Hillard. “I was working for a congressman right out of college when I was hired by University of Kentucky HealthCare as a fundraiser, and I worked there for more than a decade.”
Hillard also worked in similar positions at Harvard Medical School, Louisiana State University and the Kentucky Blood Center. It wasn’t until he faced his own battles with cancer that Hillard realized just how important efforts to raise money for research, early detection measures and treatments are.
Hillard was diagnosed with large granular lymphocytic (LGL) leukemia in 1993. Then in 2004, a routine colonoscopy revealed that Hillard had colon cancer. In both instances, Hillard benefited from early diagnosis. Surgery eliminated the colon cancer, and regular medication therapy has kept his leukemia in check for more than 25 years.
“I owe so much to the whole team at Markey Cancer Center,” he said. “I am so grateful to them for catching both cancers early.”
After his own experiences, Hillard was determined to give other Kentuckians the same shot at a positive outcome.
“Around 26,000 people in Kentucky are diagnosed with cancer each year – that’s among the highest rate in the U.S.,” he said. “I learned that so many of those cancer cases can be prevented.”
Six years ago, Hillard and some of his fellow Markey patients launched the Kentucky Cancer Foundation, a small nonprofit that helps bring much-needed funds and attention to the state’s cancer epidemic. The Foundation collaborates with members of the Kentucky Cancer Consortium, a group of more than 70 organizations, including Markey, to help ease the burden of cancer in the state through fundraising and legislation.
To date, the Foundation has lobbied for and helped provide more than $3 million to support screening and early detection measures for colon cancer, the second most common cancer in the state. More recently, the group lobbied for the largest tobacco tax increase in Kentucky history.
“By combining my two passions – fundraising and politics – I figured out how to impact big issues, and cancer is a big issue in Kentucky,” said Hillard. “We’ve focused our efforts on colon cancer screening thus far, and we are seeing a shift in the trajectory. Screening rates are improving. I’m happy to be part of the team making this change happen.”
As a member of the Patient Advisory Group at Markey, Hillard meets monthly with fellow patients and hospital leaders to gain insight into current healthcare trends and to advocate for thousands of patients like himself.
“I owe so much to the whole team at Markey Cancer Center. I am so grateful to them for catching both cancers early.” - Jack Hillard
“I think it takes a lot of courage for people to tell their life stories in such a public way, but Jack has never been shy about sharing the ups and downs of his cancer journey,” said Terry Keys, cancer education liaison at Markey. “He uses them as a springboard to advocate for more research, better treatments and patient-centered care.”
Hillard has left a lasting mark on the organization, according to his oncologist Dr. Greg Monohan. “When you have an opportunity to care for patients like Mr. Hillard and you see how successful and committed he is, it inspires me and other oncologists to continue to do what we’re doing.”