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New era in local cancer treatment begins

The linear accelerator that's been installed in the Cancer Center of Western Wisconsin will allow area residents to receive radiation treatment closer to home. The equipment was in use for the first time Monday.

The first cancer patients began receiving radiation treatment last week at the newly opened Cancer Center of Western Wisconsin in New Richmond.

It was a landmark day for the facility, which is attached to Westfields Hospital, even though its official grand opening won't happen until June 7. Doctors at the cancer center have been seeing patients since May 2, but the radiation equipment (a linear accelerator) was not ready for use until this week.

The cancer center is a joint venture among six area hospitals -- Amery Regional Medical Center, Baldwin Area Medical Center, Hudson Hospital & Clinics, Osceola Medical Center, St. Croix Regional Medical Center and Westfields Hospital.

The primary motivation behind the project was to provide radiation treatment options in the local community, said Pat Cooksey, director of business development and marketing at Hudson Hospital & Clinics.

No longer will cancer patients from western Wisconsin have to travel long distances, or into the heavy traffic of the Twin Cities, to receive similar radiation treatment, she said.

"It really is all about keeping people close to home," Cooksey said.

That's good news for many patients, Cooksey explained, because radiation treatments are typically short (perhaps as little as 15 minutes) and occur five days a week over a six-week period.

"It takes them longer to drive to an appointment and park than it does to get the treatment itself," she said.

When receiving cancer treatment, patients don't need the added stress of driving a long way for short treatments, she said.

Radiation is typically used to treat cancers such as lung, prostate, brain, breast and head and neck.

"With the high prevalence of those cancers in this area, it made a lot of sense to make this investment and have it close to home for patients," Cooksey said.

Cooksey said the partnership that formed the Cancer Center is unique, because rural hospitals don't often come together to share services.

"All of us are typically competing for patients," she said. "For us to come together is unusual. But we all know there are ways we can provide a better level of care to the region without always having to compete."

The center's first director is Bobbie Jo Heinsch, Prescott, who has helped guide the opening of two cancer centers (Woodbury, Minn. and the St. Paul Cancer Center) in the past.

Her staff includes Dr. Gary Shapiro, medical director, who comes to New Richmond via Johns Hopkins in Baltimore.

"It's an incredible opportunity for us to have Dr. Shapiro join our staff," Cooksey said.

Medical oncologists Drs. Steven McCormack and Jeff Jaffe will be seeing cancer patients needing chemotherapy or other treatment.

The radiation oncologist will be Dr. Clayton Chen, who will be joining the center in late July or early August after fulfilling his service to the military. In the interim, Dr. Raul Fernandez with Minneapolis Radiation Oncology will be providing radiation services at the facility.

Cooksey said cancer patients will continue to work with their hometown medical oncologists and receive chemotherapy locally. Follow-up appointments will also continue at each of the six local hospitals.

But if they require radiation therapy, those patients will be referred to the Cancer Center of Western Wisconsin.

"Not everyone gets radiation therapy," Cooksey said, noting that about 60 percent of patients end up getting some radiation treatment.

When the Cancer Center is running at full strength, Heinsch said she expects the facility to provide radiation treatment to between 10 and 30 patients per day. The medical oncology portion of the center will likely see between 250 and 400 patients annually, she predicted.

Construction on the $7.6 million, two-level, state-of-the-art facility began in August of 2010.

A public open house for the Cancer Center of Western Wisconsin is planned for Wednesday, June 7, from 6-8 p.m.

Jeff Holmquist
Jeff Holmquist has been managing editor of the New Richmond News since 2004. He holds a bachelor's degree in journalism and business administration from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls. He has previously worked as editor in Wadena, Minn.; Detroit Lakes, Minn.; Hutchinson, Minn.; and Bloomington, Minn. He also was previously owner of the Osceola Sun, Stillwater Courier and Scandia Messenger along with his wife. Together they previously founded and published The Old Times newspaper for antiques and collectibles collectors; and Up!, a Christian magazine of hope and encouragement.
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