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Spring Gala boosts quality of care at WVU Cancer Institute via flexible support

Audrey Underwood, second from right, speaks about her late daughter Aimee Underwood Thorn, during a special tribute at the Spring Gala.

Audrey Underwood, second from right, speaks about her late daughter Aimee Underwood Thorn, during a special tribute at the Spring Gala.

As a lifelong music lover and former member of the Mountaineer Marching Band, Aimee Underwood Thorn found comfort in music during her five-month battle with Stage 4 colon cancer. She even purposely scheduled her cancer treatments when music therapy was available at the WVU Cancer Institute.

That’s why Aimee’s family partnered with Cancer Institute leadership following her passing to bring a full-time music therapist to the Mary Babb Randolph Cancer Center. They achieved their fundraising goal with support from the Spring Gala, which has raised nearly $11 million since its inception in 1985 to advance cancer care, research, outreach, and education.

Gala proceeds support the Cancer Institute’s greatest needs as determined by leadership. Executive Chair and Director Hannah Hazard-Jenkins, M.D., said those dollars enable the Cancer Institute to accelerate initiatives that ensure compassionate, high-quality care closer to home.

“Philanthropic support empowers us to enhance and expand our cancer prevention, treatment, and research programs in ways that might not otherwise be immediately possible,” Dr. Hazard-Jenkins said. “The generosity of our dedicated donors helps us pursue beneficial projects, programs, and opportunities that offer a brighter future for patients and their families.”

The 2023 Spring Gala focused on raising the funds necessary to support the music therapy position for three years in memory of Underwood Thorn, who died at age 35 in August 2022.

“There’s no better way to honor Aimee’s memory than to make something she loved more available, more accessible to people that need it,” Evan Thorn, Aimee’s husband, said.

Previous galas provided support for LUCAS, a first-of-its-kind mobile lung cancer screening unit launched by the WVU Cancer Institute in 2021. In 2023 alone, LUCAS provided 1,583 screenings, referred 289 patients for follow-up care, and identified four cancers.

To date, more than 195 patients have received screenings funded through grants and donations.

“The mission of the Mobile Cancer Screening Program is to provide high-quality cancer screening services close to home,” Jenny Ostien, director of mobile cancer screening, said. “This outreach would not be possible without significant community engagement and philanthropic support. Taking healthcare services to rural areas across the state is an expensive endeavor, but the positive impact it has on the health of those it serves is worth it. Financial support from donors ensures that we can continue reaching people with limited access to cancer screening.”

Gala funds have also aided recruitment efforts and lab equipment tied to research, helping solidify WVU Cancer as the leader in oncology clinical trials in the region.

Proceeds from the 2024 Spring Gala will support the purchase of THOR light therapy equipment for use in patient care, as well as the ongoing pursuit of the state’s first National Cancer Institute designation

Tickets and sponsorships for the Spring Gala remain available at All gifts to the WVU Cancer Institute are made through the WVU Foundation, the nonprofit organization that receives and administers private donations on behalf of the University and its affiliated entities.

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