New cancer center opens

When construction began on Everett’s new $62.4 million cancer center in November 2005, Margaret Miner never dreamed she would be the first patient to use its most expensive piece of equipment.

Miner, who was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in February, was one of about 130 patients treated at the Providence Regional Cancer Partnership on Monday, its opening day.

The center brings together cancer specialists from four local health care organizations: Providence Everett Medical Center, The Everett Clinic, Western Washington Medical Group and Northwest Washington Radiation Oncology Associates.

Beginning next month, wide-ranging alternative medical treatments will also be offered, such as yoga, massage and tai chi.

Many patients who came to the cancer center on Monday were there to receive chemotherapy. Others, such as Eddi Walty of Lake Stevens, needed blood tests, part of her treatment plan for the lung cancer she was diagnosed with in December.

Miner, 69, of Everett, came to the cancer center to receive the first of eight scheduled radiation treatments. Dressed in a medical gown, she walked toward the entrance of a dimly lit room on the building’s second floor.

Inside was the TomoTheraphy machine, an eight-foot-tall device with a doughnut-like hole in its center.

Costing $3.25 million, it is one of only 120 such machines in the world. It uses three-dimensional images to guide cancer-fighting radiation treatments with such precision it can hit a tumor the size of a pea.

“So it should target the cancer and get rid of it, I hope,” Miner said. “I’ve got a real good attitude. I just feel they’ll get it all.”

The radiation treatments are part of a regimen that also includes taking five chemotherapy pills a day.

When Dr. Will Wisbeck, the center’s medical director of radiation oncology, told her that she would be the first patient to use the TomoTherapy machine, she remembers thinking: “Wow, that’s good.”

Miner went home and read more about it on the Internet – “sixteen pages worth,” she said with a chuckle.

Wisbeck met with Miner before Monday’s treatment to brief her on what to expect. It would take about 20 minutes, he said, for the machine to complete the necessary images and target the radiation. “You won’t see or feel it,” Wisbeck said.

The 16,000-pound doors that prevent the machine’s radiation from escaping closed quietly. Outside, Wisbeck and other health care workers monitored Miner’s treatment.

Television cameras allowed them to view parts of the machine whirling inside its circular casing while computer images zeroed in on the tumors that would be hit with radiation.

When the machine had done its work and Miner walked out of the room, there was a round of applause from health care workers who had gathered to watch the first treatment.

Miner smiled.

“You’re a star,” said Gerald Vasques, director of the center’s radiation oncology department.

At noon Monday, representatives of the four health care organizations that began planning the center in 2000 gathered to celebrate its opening.

“The whole (building) is cherry, and light and bright,” Henry Veldman, chief executive of Western Washington Medical Group.

For the cancer patients who will be treated there, he said, “it makes a huge difference.”

Reporter Sharon Salyer: 425-339-3486 or salyer@heraldnet.com.

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