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Cancer care in the valley may expand

Veronica Whitney

in Edwards, where she was getting radiation therapy.

“I was so tired,” said Silverman, 55, of Aspen, who in 2001 underwent radiation therapy in Edwards to treat breast cancer. “Towards the end of the radiation, you start feeling very tired.”

For five weeks, Silverman underwent radiation therapy five days a week at the cancer center in Edwards.



Because she had no one to drive her there, and the center doesn’t have any rooms where she could stay, she ended up renting a place in Edwards.

“At the cancer center they recommended this hotel, but it was still too expensive,” she said.



So Silverman borrowed $1,000 from her parents to pay for an apartment.

“It would have been nice to have a place to stay while your are doing the therapy,” she said. “Like they have in Grand Junction. A place you can relax.

“The Shaw Regional Cancer Center is excellent and if they could come up with housing it would make it perfect,” Silverman said.



Caring accommodations

New housing plans for patients, however, are in the works. The Shaw Outreach Team has plans to provide housing for patients who live outside Eagle County and need weeks of daily treatment. The outreach team, formed by six staff members of the Vail Valley Medical Center and 12 volunteers, is working on plans to build a 12,000-square-foot caring house where patients can stay during their treatments.

“The need is so great,” said Cheryl Jensen, chair of the marketing committee for the Shaw Outreach Team. “We realized this need existed when we found out about a man from Rifle who was sleeping in his car during radiation therapy. Our job at the outreach team is to raise awareness of the need, not just in our county but in the neighboring counties.”

Since it opened in July 2001, about 60 percent of the patients who underwent radiation therapy came from outside Eagle County. The cancer center offers personalized treatment with full radiation, medical and surgical oncology diagnosis and therapy services, including a holistic wellness program. Before the center opened, cancer patients had to drive to Denver for treatment.

The Shaw Regional Cancer Center serves a seven-county area that includes Eagle, Summit, Lake, Grand, Garfield, Routt and Pitkin counties. About 20 percent of patients request housing during chemotherapy.

“Just in the past months Vail Resorts has had three patients average a month living in their employee housing,” Jensen said.

During the off-seasons, Vail Resorts allows patients of the cancer center who are undergoing treatment to stay in its employee housing. But some months there isn’t any vacancy and patients are left to either stay in a hotel, drive every day or rent an apartment.

Growing need

Silverman said she felt lucky her treatment was in October, during the off-season. Jensen said the drive over times of year can add to a patients’ struggles.

“Most of these patients don’t feel well,” Jensen said. “They’re going through an emotional time. Some patients are receiving treatment in the winter and come from Breckenridge and some are driving by themselves.”

The plan calls for a caring house, preferably next to the cancer center. The first phase of the “Caring House” would be 12,000 square feet and would cater to 10 patients; an 8,000-square-foot expansion would be built under a second phase.

The house could cost more than $1 million, Jensen said. So far, the outreach team has raised about $140,000, she added.

“We are at the beginning stages,” she said. “At first we were going to buy a condo across the street. A caring house is a much better environment for the patients because they get support from other patients.

“We also realize there is a huge need, but the need is getting greater and greater,” Jensen added. “This is the only cancer center between Denver and Grand Junction and we’re seeing some growth.”

Jensen said she hopes the project will get approval earlier next year. That will be followed by a fund-raising campaign.

Patients staying at the caring house will be charged a minimal fee. The house would also be supported by continuous fund raising, Jensen said.

“Probably we’ll start construction in 2005, maybe sooner,” Jensen said.

Suzanne Sloane, senior director of development for the Vail Valley Medical Center, said a caring house would serve a number of patients who come from quite a distance and sometimes, can’t afford a hotel.

“Especially, as the center keeps growing we’ll probably serve more counties,” Sloane said. “The Shaw Outreach Team is a group of committed volunteers.”

Veronica Whitney can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 454, or at vwhitney@vaildaily.com.

At a glance

To help

To make a donation, call the Vail Valley Medical Center Foundation at 569-7492.

Next year’s proceeds of the “The Neiman Marcus Fashion Show Luncheon” will be donated to the Shaw Center Outreach team. The show is at 11:15 a.m., March 25 at the Vail Marriott Mountain Resort and Spa.

Tickets are $50 and can be purchased at 569-7465.


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