Jon Huntsman, Sr.: On a Mission to Cure Cancer

Four-time cancer survivor Jon Huntsman’s willingness to spend his last dollar in search of a cure for cancer may prove that the cure isn’t all about money.

A man of integrity, Jon Huntsman, Sr. recently shared the story of his dreams and accomplishments in his book Jon M Huntsman, Sr.Barefoot to Billionaire: Reflections on a Life’s Work and a Promise to Cure Cancer. Here Huntsman makes it clear he has no intention of taking his last dollar with him. He plans to exit this world as he entered it: barefoot and broke. Huntsman will put his money to use by spending, investing, and sharing it during his lifetime.

Finding a cure for cancer is a lofty goal. After all, President Richard Nixon began our “war” on cancer in 1971. The progress we’ve made since then, in spite of the billions of dollars invested in research, is questionable at best. We celebrate as a success story any and all cancer patients who are alive five years after their original diagnosis. Yes, surviving five years sounds good. But what if you’re diagnosed at age 16: does living until 21 sound like a success story?

Let’s get back to Huntsman’s goal – identifying a cure for cancer. Don’t underestimate Huntsman’s perseverance, tenacity, and ability to meet goals. His approach to business has been questioned numerous times. In his book, Huntsman states:

Because we are headquartered in Utah, the big boys often look at us as hicks. As soon as they see signs of decency, openness, and straightforwardness, some take it as a sign of weakness and think they can take advantage of us. Some have found out the hard way that when cheated or threatened with an unfair set of playing rules, there is another side to Jon Huntsman, a tough side of which advantage can’t be taken.

This toughness in the corporate world translates well as Huntsman maps out his philanthropic investment plan. When partners reneged on their promises to assist with financing for a cancer institute, Huntsman Cancer Institute became a reality thanks to Plan B – something the masterful planner Huntsman always seems to have in his back pocket.

[M]y original partners pulled out, leaving me to put everything together myself. Today, I don’t rely on partners or other people. If I want something done, I figure out how to do it and I get it done.*

Huntsman continues to fund Huntsman Cancer Institute with the expectation that a cure for cancer will be uncovered. His namesake cancer institute is well known for research and the care it provides its patients. So, why did I imply that the answer may not be about money? Are too many people making too much money to stop this cancer industry we’ve created? As I’ve written before, I have to wonder “What if?” whenever I wonder why we haven’t found a cure for cancer. Here are a few more questions to ponder:

  • What if we already have a cure?
  • What if we take a closer look at T. Colin Campbell’s book The China Study and adjust our diet and lifestyle rather than suffering through surgery, drugs, radiation, and their debilitating side effects?
  • What if we check our assumptions at the door and read Raymond Francis’ book Never Fear Cancer Again?
  • What if while we look for that cure, we also pay attention to prevention like the folks at Less Cancer who believe Prevention is the Future?
  • What if everyone seeking a cure for cancer were motivated – as Huntsman is – to eliminate suffering, rather than to bulk up their bank accounts?

Like Huntsman and Francis, I imagine a day when we don’t fear a cancer diagnosis. I commend Huntsman for his efforts to remove cancer from our lives. I also encourage him to broaden his search and look under the unlikely stone to identify the cure he seeks. Never would I count Huntsman out – he is, after all, a man of his word. And, yes, I’d love to tour his cancer institute.

*From article in Summer 2012 Philanthropy Magazine.

About Deb

Deb Nelson, principal of deb nelson consulting, is a creative storyteller. She designs and implements communication plans that leverage strategic partnerships and provide innovative solutions for her clients. You can find her on twitter at @nelliedeb.


  1. Hmmmm….a cancer free world is a lofty ambition but a perfect one! Cancer is so devastating to too many. I’m intrigued that this billionaire wants to spend all of his money toward this cause during his lifetime. It’s an interesting choice but one that I can fully get behind. What an amazing legacy.
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  2. For me, I have no doubt that a big part of the reason we don’t have a cure for cancer, is that it has become Big Business. Once we remove humanity from the equation and substitute money, it becomes less likely we will be able to transform this. There are many people who continue to shed light on this and continue to work to find a “cure”. What if the cure for both cancer and aids already existed? I will stay on the side of you and John Huntsman and continue to work towards educating and empowering people to reclaim their own health and wellbeing. A lovely tribute to a man dedicated to making a difference, Deb. Thanks!
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    • As always, love your comments Beverley. The cancer industry has become big business. We’ve all got to become our own advocates when it comes to health care.

  3. Hi Deb,

    What a great review on Jon Huntsman and his mission to cure cancer 🙂 Such an inspiration! Thank you for sharing 🙂
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    • Hi Joan – Thanks for your comments. And, what a gift to all if we move forward with the knowledge we’ve already got to save lives.

  4. What an absolutely beautiful concept of John Huntsman’s, to leave the world barefoot and broke. He truly is an inspiration and I hope he fulfils his dream to cure cancer. Thanks for sharing Deb.
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    • Thanks for weighing in Michelle – Let’s hope we can take advantage of research that’s been done to date – all research – and move the needle forward on this one.

  5. Having lost my mom to cancer 15 years ago, I understand the fight against this terrible disease is heart breaking at times. I commend Jon Huntsman for his courage. Thanks for sharing Deb!
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  6. That awful word. I have stopped giving to it’s foundation because I don’t believe in it anymore. I will, however… support $$$ to families going through it. There is no way that after gazillions of years… bazillions of dollars… and zabillions of scientific work… that we are not closer to cures. It’s become a money making business and they are NOT going to let it go easily. I want no part of their laundered money thingy. Disgusting. In the meantime, people are suffering and dying. One day, “they” will have to be held accountable for every one… 🙁
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    • I’ve also adjusted my giving to support organizations that are supporting families and researching alternative and complementary therapies. The good news is that more and more people are becoming advocates for themselves – looking forward to seeing how this all plays out.
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