MercyOne’s Dr. Richard Deming chose to study medicine because he was good at it — he was the top student of both his graduating college class as well as his medical school. However, he chose to become not just a physician, but a healer, because of his mother. She was diagnosed with incurable lung cancer when he was a junior in high school, and she died of the disease at age 52, when Deming was beginning his second year of medical school. 

Deming, 66, is a national leader in cancer care who has practiced with both passion and compassion at MercyOne for more than 30 years, the past 10 of those as medical director of MercyOne Cancer Center.

A native of South Dakota, Deming studied medicine at Creighton Medical School in Nebraska. After graduating, a Navy internship brought him to San Diego where he learned to care for submarine crews, and then to Hawaii as a medical officer for a unit of Navy divers before going into oncology. He completed a residency at the University of California-San Francisco, and then spent two years on the staff of the National Cancer Institute at Bethesda Naval Hospital in Maryland before moving to Des Moines in 1989 to help develop Mercy’s cancer center. 

Now, with the launch of a $16 million fundraising campaign, Deming’s legacy will continue under his leadership as the cancer center is re-created into a center of excellence at MercyOne’s downtown Des Moines campus. 

The need for the center is anticipated to increase as the incidence of cancer cases becomes more prevalent with Iowa’s aging population. This year, cancer is expected to surpass heart disease as the leading cause of death for the first time and claim an estimated 6,400 Iowan lives. 

“This center will address our community’s health needs as we treat our patients’ minds, bodies and spirits,” said Steve Chapman, who is co-chairing the campaign with Suku Radia, the board chair of Mercy Medical Center Des Moines. 

The initiative represents a new framework for cancer treatment in Central Iowa that will be even more patient-centered, Deming said. 

“This capital campaign, and the opportunity to expand on the incredible work that’s been done over the last 30 years, is really exciting because we’re going to have the opportunity to create a new paradigm for how to take care of cancer patients and their families,” he said. 

With a vision of “creating a future of excellence, innovation and compassionate care,” a  centerpiece of the campaign is a remodeling of the existing cancer center on MercyOne’s Des Moines campus as a center of excellence that will provide a more multidisciplinary approach to caring for cancer patients. 

Under the new approach, it’s MercyOne’s goal that patients will meet all specialists involved in their care at a centralized location within 48 hours to one week of referral. A coordinator will help patients navigate care and serve as a dedicated and consistent point of contact for referrals, weekly schedules and other needs. 

“When a patient is told, ‘You have cancer,’ they often are not quite ready to hear everything that comes after that,” Deming said. “To be able to provide a space where we have not only the doctors but also our nurse navigators, our support services, our genetic counselors and everything together to provide them the support so that they can really understand the journey that they’re beginning, you will make a huge difference in the way we practice medicine.” 

The fundraising campaign also provides for significant upgrades to MercyOne’s cancer treatment technologies, among them a $4.5 million investment by MercyOne to purchase a new CyberKnife Stereotactic Radiosurgery machine. MercyOne was among the first 25 hospitals in the country to acquire the technology 15 years ago. 

The campaign further includes an expansion of several existing programs designed to support patients and their families with compassionate care, among them the Nurse Navigator program, as well as an expansion of the Cancer Survivor program. 

One of the first pieces of the initiative, the technology upgrades, is already underway. The old CyberKnife machine was recently removed and work is in progress to modify the space for the new machine, which is expected to be in place by June. Other parts of the renovation project and the expansion of programs will depend upon progress of the capital campaign, Deming said. 

Through the campaign’s silent phase, which began in September, MercyOne Foundation has already received commitments for about $10 million toward the $16 million goal, said Shannon Cofield, the foundation’s president.  

The Comfort Family Foundation, which several years ago contributed an $8.5 million naming gift for the Mercy Comfort Health Center for Women that opened in 2017 in Clive, contributed a lead gift of $2 million to the Deming Cancer Center campaign. Other major contributors include Steve and Melissa Chapman, who have committed $250,000, and the Graham Group, with a $250,000 commitment. Deming has committed a $100,000 gift to the campaign, and legacy planned gift of $1 million. 

“The MercyOne Richard Deming Cancer Center will deepen our mission of serving the most vulnerable Iowans in need with high-quality, patient-centered care,” Radia said. “This is one of the most important campaigns our community has ever launched, as we spearhead cutting-edge care in a compassionate, healing manner that treats our patients holistically.”

For MercyOne Des Moines President Karl Keeler, as for many people, cancer is a deeply personal subject. His wife, a nurse, is a cancer survivor who was diagnosed and treated when she was 33. His family knows how stressful the annual checkups can be before they mark another year of being cancer-free. 

“I think it’s hard to find someone who hasn’t known someone who has dealt with cancer,” Keeler said. 

“I think that that’s part of the compelling nature of this campaign,” Deming said. “As Karl said, everyone has been touched by cancer. And everyone recognizes that, yes, you need the best treatment to kill the cancer cells, but what’s equally important is that you do it in a way that’s compassionate, and that provides important quality of life for patients and their families, every step along the journey.”