GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado - The last thing a cancer patient needs as he or she battles the disease is a cold, depressing treatment atmosphere.
"People who are being treated for cancer are going through enough stress. Their surroundings should not be hostile. They need someplace inviting and warm," said Dr. Ira Jaffrey, an oncologist at Valley View Hospital for the past 15 years.
For many patients who live on Colorado's Western Slope, a shelter from the cancer storm is now a reality at Valley View Hospital's new $26 million Calaway-Young Cancer Center. The center will begin seeing patients later this month.
For many years, Valley View Hospital patients have had access to cancer surgery and chemotherapy treatments. However, with the opening of the Calaway-Young Cancer Center, they will now have access to state-of-the-art radiation treatment.
Dr. Bruce Greene came to Valley View Hospital to develop the new treatment program, along with physicist John Sweet. Greene calls the addition of the new services a "game changer" for patients.
"This is the leading edge of technology, and it allows us to offer a full spectrum of modern radiation-treatment services," Greene said.
For the past two years, Valley View Hospital has embarked on a major expansion. The cancer center is named after Carbondale philanthropists Jim and Connie Calaway and Alpine Bank founder and chairman Bob Young. Together, they donated $4 million for the construction. Additionally, the Valley View Hospital Foundation raised a total of $7 million.
"Gifts have come from across our community, with people sharing their stories of how they have been impacted by cancer and how proud they are to see Valley View bring a comprehensive cancer center to the valley," said Stacy Gavrell, foundation spokesperson. "Nearly 400 commemorative pavers were purchased - in memory, celebration and recognition - and those are now in the new healing garden."
"The community has built this cancer center, and we're happy to be part of it," said Dr. Douglas Rovira, Valley View oncologist.
Rovira and Jaffrey said that the opening of the Calaway-Young Cancer Center marks a major improvement in health care access for nearby residents.
"Historically, patients have had to travel from 90 to 100 miles to the west for radiation services or 60 miles to the east, through the canyon, for radiation services," Jaffrey said. "The treatment for people living in the Roaring Fork Valley has been difficult and, in some cases, prohibitive."
Rovira said that the distances involved for patients added a great deal of stress during an already stressful time.
"The truth of the matter is your busy life doesn't go away while you are fighting cancer," he said.
The centerpiece of the Calaway-Young Cancer Center radiation oncology services is the new $3 million TrueBeam Linear Accelerator. The Palo Alto-manufactured equipment is touted as the best in the world by Greene and Sweet.
Encased in a treatment room that features 7-foot-thick concrete walls, the accelerator delivers radiation treatment calibrated to within millimeters. It also has a build-in CAT scan and seven specially calibrated recording devices that can detect the slightest patient movement and prompt the machine to shut down if even minimal movement is detected. The end result, according to Sweet, is that radiation treatment is effectively and precisely targeted to treat cancer cells while leaving adjacent healthy cells untouched.
Sweet said there are many misconceptions about radiation treatment. He said radiation generally produces fewer side effects and is less invasive than surgery. Additionally, he said that radiation oncology appointments are scheduled in 15-minute intervals, and treatments generally take between one and five minutes. Comparatively, Sweet said chemotherapy treatments can last anywhere from 15 minutes to five hours.
"For some patients, we will be able to do two radiation treatments in a single day. That can be a really big advantage," Sweet said.
Even in the accelerator treatment room, where advanced technology is the focus, the patient's mental health is not forgotten. As he or she lays still and undergoes treatment, a backlit aspen grove with blue sky fills the ceiling view in a room lined with wood cabinetry and floors.
"We wanted an atmosphere that does not make a patient feel like they are doing these super-technological treatments," Greene said.
And, he said, before a patient ever lays down on the accelerator table, he or she will have a chance to see the equipment and ask questions.
"Long before they come here, we have spent well over an hour with the patients and their families explaining what will happen and trying to demystify the procedure," Greene said.
As they lead a tour group through the new center, the oncologists and other staff emphasize the new facility is designed to treat a whole person. Combined with the new high-tech radiation services are tranquil chemotherapy treatment areas. MRI and CAT scan services are integrated into the operation instead of being located in other parts of the hospital.
Beyond the strictly medical part of the operation, the Calaway-Young Cancer Center also includes a library, where patients can learn more about treatment or find reading materials that will help as they battle cancer. A special spa area will offer hair care, skin treatment and products and prosthetics fittings. There are massage rooms and a conference room that will double as a yoga studio.
"It is designed to be a more human-friendly place, so that you feel like you're at home, instead of a sterile hospital environment," Jaffrey said.
John Stroud, of the Glenwood Springs Post Independent, contributed to this story.