Lawrence's oncology services have come a long way in 10 years
- on September 16, 2011
Lawrence Memorial Hospital’s Oncology Center serves about 600 new patients each year and administers about 18,000 treatments.
Just a decade ago, it didn’t exist and patients often had to go out of town for care and treatments.
Carol Eller McCaffrey, 66, of Lawrence, said she can’t imagine having to travel out of town for her chemotherapy treatments to fight Stage 4 lung cancer. She undergoes treatment every three weeks, for three days at a time.
After treatment, she’s usually eager to get home or back to work, depending on how she’s feeling.
“I would always rather get care here at home,” she said.
Oncology services were not available in Lawrence until 1983, when Dr. Matthew Stein joined a private practice in Lawrence. His office-based oncology and hematology practice was the only one of its kind in the community for 13 years.
In 1996, Stein continued to see his patients, but couldn’t keep up with the growing demand for oncology services. New patients had to see part-time oncologists from Kansas City and Topeka or they had to travel outside of Lawrence for care.
LMH President and CEO Gene Meyer said there were very limited resources for chemotherapy and no resources for radiation oncology in Lawrence. Patients would have to get on a bus at the hospital and travel to Topeka for radiation treatments.
“There was a real need for oncology services,” he said.
In 2000, the hospital put plans into motion to open an oncology center. It hired Dr. Ronald Stephens, who had been director of medical oncology at Kansas University for about 15 years.
“He gave the program pretty much instant credibility,” Meyer said. “I refer to him as the godfather of oncologists in Kansas because he taught oncology for so many years at the medical school.”
Stephens saw his first patient under the new LMH program on May 3, 2000, and by the time The Oncology Center opened on Jan. 1, 2001, Dr. Stein had joined the center.
During the next decade, it grew. In 2010, it logged 8,378 patient visits, up from 2,539 in 2001. It provided 18,699 treatments last year compared with 3,226 in 2001.
Some of its milestones:
• 2002 — opened an on-site pharmacy that is staffed by a pharmacist who has specialized training in oncology.
• 2003 — center was renovated for the addition of radiation oncology.
• 2003 — Dr. Sharon Soule joined the practice.
• 2004 — it began offering genetic testing services for individuals with elevated cancer risks because of hereditary factors.
• 2006 — center expanded to include 15 private treatment rooms, 10 exam rooms, one procedure room and four nursing stations.
• 2011 — grand opening of Mario’s Closet, a specialty shop for cancer patients.
• 2011 — Dr. Luke Huerter joined the practice, bringing the number of oncologists to five.
Today, Stephens said the majority of patients can get their diagnosis, surgery, chemotherapy, immunotherapy and radiation in Lawrence at the oncology center. It also offers more than 150 clinical trials that are approved by the National Cancer Institute.
Stephens said he currently has patients coming from Columbia, Mo., and Kansas City to participate in clinical trials. The center has served 5,300 patients from 30 states, but most are from the Lawrence area.
Stephens touted the oncology center’s staff and expertise, but he called its approximately 20 volunteers “the icing on the cake.” They try to help comfort patients by providing anything they need, whether it be a cup of ice water, a blanket or listening ear.
“I don’t know where else you can go and get chemotherapy and get that kind of nurturing,” he said.
Eller McCaffrey said every person that she came into contact with during her first visit said, “We are sorry that you have to be here.”
“It’s genuine, you can tell. They don’t overdo it,” she said. “It’s just one time, and then before you know it, they’re like family.”
Lawrence Memorial Hospital is marking The Oncology Center’s 10th anniversary with a celebration from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday in the parking lot just south of the center near the intersection of Arkansas and Fourth streets.
There will be refreshments and tours of the center. A program will begin at 6 p.m. with several speakers including Dr. Ronald Stephens, an oncologist, and LMH President and CEO Gene Meyer.
The event is free and open to the public.