Survivor and Gold Medalist Scott Hamilton Works to Raise the Bar of Cancer Treatment

After losing his mother to breast cancer and then fighting testicular cancer himself, Olympic gold medalist Scott Hamilton started a foundation to help those touched by the disease.

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Figure skater Scott Hamilton is perhaps best known for his signature backflip—a difficult move that few others can execute on ice.

But while the Olympic gold medalist has spent much of his career turning himself upside down, he now aims to turn cancer upside down. After losing his mother to breast cancer in 1977 and surviving his own battle with testicular cancer in 1997, Hamilton started the Scott Hamilton CARES Foundation, which is dedicated to funding world-class research and quality care to improve cancer survivorship. The logo for his foundation, an upside down ribbon, is a nod to his backflip and, more importantly, his goal to reverse the trajectory of cancer.

“I want to get enough information out there so when people are diagnosed with cancer, they can educate themselves and find out what is going on and not just be scared that they are going to die. I want people to know how to get treatment in the best way possible, not just the first way possible.”

Hamilton shared these guiding principles for his advocacy work and commitment to innovation at a recent launch event for Hengrui Therapeutics, where he was keynote speaker. Hengrui Therapeutics, a new Princeton-based biopharmaceutical company, is developing and commercializing oncology agents.

“We need to try and get behind people that have great ideas to make it better for the next person,” he said. “As a patient and a survivor, it is the greatest feeling in the world to know that there are innovative people that want to change the world and save lives.”

Hamilton is also responsible for the 4th Angel Mentoring Program, which brings patients together with survivors of the same cancer, and, a resource for those undergoing chemotherapy. He is working to expand the use of proton therapy, a type of radiation treatment that uses protons rather than traditional radiation to treat cancer. Construction of the first Scott Hamilton Proton Therapy Center is expected to start this summer in Franklin, Tennessee, where Hamilton currently resides.

Finding His Inspiration

Hamilton has always been determined to overcome adversity. As a young child, he spontaneously stopped growing, his stomach became ascended and he lost muscle development. He spent four years in and out of hospitals, but doctors could not determine what was wrong with him.

It was ice skating that finally helped him to heal.

“One day I decided to go ice skating, and I found something that I really love to do,” said Hamilton. “I practiced and practiced and pretty soon I was skating as well as the well kids, even though I was still very sick. Then I was skating as well as the best athletes. I started to get better. Whatever the disease was it went away, and I started growing again; it was miraculous.”

It wasn’t until years later in 2004, after Hamilton had already beaten testicular cancer, that he was diagnosed with a benign, non-cancerous pituitary brain tumor thought to be linked to his childhood illness. He has since recovered following radiation and hormone replacement therapy.

From the moment Hamilton stepped on the ice, his parents supported his passion for figure skating, and despite their limited teachers’ salaries, paid for him to pursue it.

But the sport became too much of a luxury when his mom received her breast cancer diagnosis. Hamilton was 17 years old when his parents told him they would only be able to pay for him to skate for one more year. Hamilton, who was very close with his mother, understood completely.

“Up until that point, I was a habitual loser,” said Hamilton. “In my first National Championship, I fell five times and came in last. The next year, I came in last again. When my mother told me I had to quit skating, I was okay with stopping.”

But with the pressure off, something changed for Hamilton. With his mother sitting in the stands, her left breast recently removed and her head covered in a wig to hide her chemotherapy-induced baldness, Hamilton won the Junior National title.

The win caught the attention of Helen and Frank McLoraine, a wealthy couple that ran a figure skating scholarship program. They decided to sponsor his career going forward and paid for him to be coached by Carlo Fassi, the same man who coached Dorothy Hamill.

Finishing high school, Hamilton got an apartment and was on his own for the first time in his life. The newfound independence caused him to lose focus, he said, and he came in ninth place in his first competition at the senior level.

Unfortunately, that was the last time Hamilton’s mother saw him skate, as she lost her battle with cancer shortly after. It was her death that pushed Hamilton to get back on track in his career.

“When she died, I didn’t know how I could do any of this without her,” said Hamilton. “But then I realized that I could just bring her with me wherever I went. I could live for her and be accountable to her and be the person she always thought I could be. From then on, everything changed.” Just a few short years later, Hamilton qualified for the 1980 Olympics, where he was chosen to carry the U.S. flag in the opening ceremony and came in fifth. In 1984, he went back again, this time winning the gold medal.

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