Wednesday, February 19, 2014
Georgetown — The Francis B. Ford Cancer Treatment Center is 10 years old this month.
And because of the life-saving treatments provided at the center in the last decade, many residents of surrounding communities are also celebrating birthdays, anniversaries and other milestones.
Among them is Janet Cantley, age 43, of Andrews. Today, Cantley is cancer-free.
That wasn’t the case 10 years ago.
Like many people in their 30s living life to its fullest, the married mother of two young children didn’t think twice when she felt a twinge of pain in her chest.
She chalked it up to a pulled muscle from cleaning the bathtub. It wasn’t until she developed other, more worrisome symptoms that she called her doctor.
Within a week, she was scheduled for a needle biopsy.
Within two weeks, she had a diagnosis: Stage 3 breast cancer. It was August 2003.
Cantley still carries her 10-year-old pocket calendar, with its notations of every consultation, every treatment, every test.
As she methodically turns the pages, checking and rechecking her dates, she is the picture of poise and good health. But on that steamy August day, she was terrified — terrified of leaving her children for treatment elsewhere — and terrified of possibly leaving them for good.
“My daughter, who was 8 at the time, cried herself to sleep. We tried to reassure her everything would be OK,” said Cantley, who relied on her faith and her medical team to get her through the tumult.
After undergoing a round of intensive chemotherapy, she had a lumpectomy performed by Dr. Craig Brackett, a breast surgeon with Coastal Carolina Breast Center.
Then she began the challenging rounds of radiation and chemotherapy, but there was one bright spot.
Her treatment schedule coincided with the opening of the newly built Ford Cancer Treatment Center.
If she could go there, she could at least shed the burden of leaving town for the daily rounds of radiation.
The cancer center, a partnership of Georgetown Hospital System and MUSC Hollings Cancer Center, provides radiation therapy services.
Also housed on the campus are chemotherapy services provided by Georgetown Hospital System; the medical practice of Waccamaw Oncology, a member of Georgetown Physician Services; and Coastal Carolina Breast Center.
“I was really fortunate that I didn’t have to drive far and that my husband didn’t have to take time off work to take me,” said Cantley, whose mother kept her children during her visits.
“The staff was so caring, and they treated me like family. Plus, it was easier to have everything in one place.”
Dr. Brackett, Cantley’s surgeon, said housing surgical, medical and radiation oncology in one building makes things easier for patients and gives them comfort knowing that all their physicians can be conveniently accessed.
“Prior to having the cancer center, care was fragmented, and communication was lacking,” Dr. Brackett said.
“This center helps us deliver comprehensive care using a multidisciplinary approach. It increases communication, gives patients peace of mind and ease, and because we are enjoined with MUSC, it gives patients confidence in the level of cancer care that we are giving.”
Dr. Lee Milling, medical director and a physician with Waccamaw Oncology, says the center offers an approach to care that is unique to the area.
“There is no facility like it in Georgetown and Horry counties,” Dr. Milling said.
“All the specialists can work together and talk with patients together. It’s good for the staff that delivers care, and it’s good for the patients who receive care.”
Chance to say thanks
Today, Cantley is cancer-free, but she still returns to the center for annual check-ups.
On a recent day, she stopped in to see radiation therapist Joyce Holley and to meet with her radiation oncologist, Dr. Eric Aguero. She never misses the chance to thank them for helping save her life.
That’s just what Francis B. “Jeep” Ford of Georgetown dreamed of when he and his fellow trustees on the board of Georgetown Memorial Hospital began pushing for a cancer treatment center in the 1990s.
Ford, who was chairman of the GMH board at the time, said board members were motivated by a desire to have a comprehensive cancer treatment program close to home so people wouldn’t have the additional hardship of traveling to get care.
“All of us had seen family and friends who had been forced to go elsewhere for treatment, whether for day trips or longer, and we saw the toll that it took on them and their families,” Ford says.
“We felt strongly that a cancer center was really needed, and we wanted to do this for the people of Georgetown. We wanted the best that money could buy.”
Leaders at the Georgetown hospital partnered with MUSC Hollings Cancer Center, South Carolina’s only NCI-designated cancer center, to make the cancer center a reality.
Ford admits it was a tall order, with the organizations coming together to rally local support and convince state officials to approve a certificate of need.
Then there were the matters of raising funds, acquiring land, developing a program, overseeing construction and hiring staff.
But on Feb. 4, 2004, the Francis B. Ford Cancer Treatment Center, funded exclusively with private monies, including a multimillion-dollar gift from the Yawkey Foundation, opened its doors. In the 10 years since, Georgetown Hospital System has developed a comprehensive oncology program that provides radiation and chemotherapy treatments, counseling, patient navigators and financial services, as well as clinical trials for breast, colon and lung cancer.
Dr. Aguero and physicist Dr. Ingrid Marshall, who have been with the center since it opened, are employed by MUSC, where they also hold assistant professorships. The center is accredited in radiation oncology services by the American College of Radiology.
‘We treat everyone’
Joyce Holley, director of radiation therapy, says the center does not turn away anyone for inability to pay. Says Holley, “We treat everyone, and we treat everyone the same.”
Ford recalls a poignant moment when he was visiting the center one day several years ago.
“A woman came over to me,” he says. “She was wearing a turban, and she just had this big smile on her face. She took my hand in hers and said, ‘This place has given me my life back. Thank you.’
“That is what this center is all about.”
Georgetown Hospital System is a private, not-for-profit organization. The system consists of Georgetown Memorial Hospital, Waccamaw Community Hospital and several facilities throughout Horry and Georgetown counties. For more information about Georgetown Hospital System, please visit our website at www.georgetownhospitalsystem.org.
— From Georgetown Hospital System