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The Show Must Go On

Story by Curran Umphrey | Photo by Mike Strawn 

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way organizations everywhere are able to approach fundraising, especially when it comes to events, and the Advisory Board of the O’Neal Comprehensive Cancer Center at UAB is no different.

In light of the social distancing guidelines brought on by the pandemic, the Advisory Board will host its 36th annual ArtBLINK Gala in an entirely virtual format on Feb. 5, 2021. Although attendees will not gather in The Kirklin Clinic of UAB Hospital as in years past, the Advisory Board will still celebrate one loyal friend of the Cancer Center as its Director’s Circle honoree, George Wheelock III.

The ArtBLINK Director’s Circle is a membership program that offers the public an opportunity to invest in and engage with the O’Neal Cancer Center. Members’ investments support high-priority initiatives at the Cancer Center, including research projects and patient navigator programs.

Wheelock, a founding member and former president of the Advisory Board, has been a member of the Director’s Circle since it originated in 2015. He says that he initially joined the Director’s Circle out of appreciation for its first honoree, and now, six years later, Wheelock himself will be recognized.

“I’m incredibly honored and flattered to be the honoree for this year’s virtual ArtBLINK Gala,” Wheelock said. “Raising money for the Cancer Center can’t stop, because cancer doesn’t stop. Even during a pandemic, we have to raise as much money as we can to meet the needs of our patients.”

Fundraising during a global pandemic is a challenge that the O’Neal Cancer Center has never faced in its 48 years of existence. Wheelock says he feels more than confident that the leaders at UAB and, specifically, within the Cancer Center can overcome the obstacles presented by this pandemic.

“Dr. Barry Sleckman is going to accomplish great things wherever he is, so he came to us at a really good time,” Wheelock said. “Dr. Sleckman, coupled with the O’Neal family’s support, is huge. I think cancer is going to be cured in the not-too-distant future.”

Throughout his nearly 40 years on the Advisory Board, Wheelock has witnessed what was once a small, committed group of physicians grow into what is now the O’Neal Comprehensive Cancer Center. Treatments that were only dreams in 1982 have since become reality, Wheelock says.

“When the board started, the Cancer Center was not even in the phonebook, so patients had to look up a doctor and call them directly. Once we fixed that, we asked ourselves, ‘What else can we do to do make a traumatic, life-changing experience like cancer treatment more human?’” Wheelock said. “We know it would never be enjoyable, but anything we can do to cut down the red tape and hassle is important.”

In addition to adding a Cancer Center hotline number to the Yellow Pages, the board tackled a number of other patient-centric initiatives, including establishing the first valet parking system at UAB.

“The center has made so much progress over the years,” Wheelock said. “The board is made up of some really good people. Everybody is passionate about what we’re doing here. I’m very proud of the group.”

Among this group of dedicated board members is Charlie Perry, a friend of Wheelock for some 40 years. The two, known for their shared sense of humor, have formed a close friendship through their membership on the Advisory Board.

“What a great honoree the O’Neal Comprehensive Cancer Center has chosen this year in George Wheelock,” Perry said. “George loves all things UAB, but his true passion is the O’Neal Cancer Center. George gives and gives but never seeks the spotlight, and this trait is just one of the reasons that everybody loves him.”

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