The FitzPatrick Cancer Center opened its doors in April of 1990 to meet the community’s need for a comprehensive and coordinated approach to caring for North Country residents with cancer and in doing so, established a new standard of cancer care here.
Thirty years later, the FCC team continues to keep the bar high when it comes to exceptional cancer care. “We not only have a talented staff delivering excellent care, we do it with a very personal touch. Being in a smaller community allows you to treat patients like family,” Jan Duus, MD, medical oncologist explained.
From its very beginnings, the Cancer Center set a new standard of care. “Our goal from the start was to bring the services to our patients — all under one roof,” explained Debra Donahue, the center’s first leader.
The basic outline of services established 30 years ago are still offered today. Medical Oncology (chemotherapy), Radiation Oncology, Pharmacy and Laboratory services are in one location as is a social worker and financial counselor. “Cancer affects everything in a person’s life,” explains FCC Social Worker Stacey LaFave. “We have services here that can help cope with all the challenges related to a diagnosis (of cancer).” A number of support groups offer patients and families the opportunity to draw strength from each other (a complete listing can be found on UVMHealth.org/CVPH). Complimentary therapies like yoga and Reiki Healing are also available. A certified dietician is on staff to help with nutritional needs related to treatment and a psychiatrist is also part of the team.
“When the Cancer Center first opened, there was one chemotherapy chair; then there were four, then eight and then the Infusion Center opened,” recalled Donahue. Rachel Kern, RN, Infusion Center Manager, said that today’s center can accommodate up to 15 patients and offers privacy and comfort. Opening in 2009, it’s located just down the hall from the Cancer Center. Comfortable, reclining chairs and individual televisions are separated by privacy walls. The ambiance is warm and friendly and neighborly banter fill the rooms as RNs greet their patients each day like old friends.
“We have services here that can help cope with all the challenges related to a diagnosis (of cancer).” -Stacy LaFave, FCC Social Worker
Technology, too, has played a tremendous role in quality of care provided at the Center, especially in Radiation Oncology. When he first joined the CVPH Medical Center, Radiation Oncologist Anthony Vaccaro said radiation therapy was conducted in the hospital’s X-Ray Department. “There was a cobalt unit in the back of the department. It looked like a huge Kodak camera and there were radioactive materials right there in the room. The patient was brought in and the machine was turned on. They received a beam of gamma rays produced by the radioactive material and that was the treatment.”
Today, Dr. Vaccaro is quick to point out, the technology used by the FCC’s Radiation Therapy team is some of the very best. The new technology and the skilled clinicians who use it are able to more accurately radiate the tumors without damaging surrounding tissue. “That means shorter treatment times, fewer side effects and improved quality of life,” Dr. Vaccaro, who is marking his 30th year at the Center explained.
Radiation Oncology Manager Rebecca Collins added that therapy is now driven by software which allows the treatments to be even more precise. “In these last couple of years, there’s been so much change in our department; the most I’ve seen in my career. It’s very exciting to be on the cutting edge of care,” she added.
Telemedicine supports the outreach effort and has been used for the past 10 years in Elizabethtown. “Because of telemedicine, we have been able to develop a chemotherapy infusion program there which has allowed those patients to receive their care closer to home. When you are going through the strain of cancer treatment, eliminating the need to travel is such a welcome benefit. I think providing services like this also helps strengthen our smaller network hospitals,” Dr. Duus explained.
“At the end of the day, the Cancer Center has changed the way people think about cancer care in this community. I truly believe that’s because of the people who care for our patients and the relationships they build with them, each other and professionals beyond these walls,” CVPH President Michelle LeBeau said.