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Thursday April 24th 2014

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National Cancer Survivors Day

Area Hospitals Celebrate Local Cancer Survivors
By Kristy McDaniel

When Lynn Tucker, a high school English teacher, was told that she must have chemo after discovering that she had breast cancer, one of the first things she thought of was her neutral-colored carpet.

“It’s kind of funny. I had a preconceived idea that I would spend three months throwing up, so I said to my husband, ‘We just need to rip up this carpet and get some hardwood in this bedroom.’”

Tucker’s sense of humor has certainly helped her to battle her disease. However, humor alone cannot beat cancer. Sunday, June 5, is National Cancer Survivors Day, a day dedicated to focusing on the issues of cancer survivorship in order to better the quality of life for cancer survivors.

Pensacola’s three hospitals have cancer centers that offer many varieties of activities and services to enable cancer survivors to live long, productive lives, from advanced medical technologies to educational seminars and philanthropic initiatives.

The West Florida Cancer Center, which is part of West Florida Healthcare, offers some of the most cutting-edge technologies on the Gulf Coast, such as the da Vinci Surgical System, a robotic system that enables surgeons to have increased precision when operating on gynecological/urological cancer patients and enables patients to have shorter recovery times.

According to Kendrick Doidge, Vice President of Marketing and Public Relations at West Florida Healthcare, “We really hang our hat on our specially-trained oncology nurses.”

The West Florida Cancer Center specializes in blood transfusions, which are essential to cancer/leukemia patients with abnormal blood cell counts.

On National Cancer Survivors Day, West Florida Healthcare will give tours of its cancer center from 2-4 p.m. The tours will be open to the public and aim to help raise awareness of cancer treatments that WFH has to offer.
Sacred Heart Hospital’s Cancer Center is affiliated with M. D. Anderson Physicians Network, part of The University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center, a research-driven institute that is ranked by U.S. News and World Report as the nation’s top cancer treatment center.
Sacred Heart is home to the PET CT imaging system, which allows physicians to simultaneously examine physical anatomy and metabolic activity, enabling precise tumor detection. Patients also have access to the Trilogy Stereotactic System, which is one of the most advanced image-guided radiotherapy systems in the world.

To better meet their needs, survivors at Sacred Heart are given both traditional and nontraditional treatment options via nationwide clinical trials. To stay abreast in their patients’ progression, radiation oncologists and medical oncologists meet together three times a week to discuss the best treatment options.

Support services can play a vital role in recovery for survivors. While scared and confused, survivors find comfort knowing that they are not alone in their battle. No one knows better than a survivor how tumultuous life can be after a diagnosis. Locally, West Florida, Baptist and Sacred Heart hospitals offer support services to cancer survivors.

“I felt like my body had betrayed me,” says Maria Tremble, a member of Baptist Hospital’s support group. She found comfort in her support group after discovering that she was not alone in her fears and disappointments.

“It’s a tremendous help…It gives you more peace of mind—it tells you that other people have been where you are at the moment and they made it; there’s hope.”

While all three local hospitals offer support services for cancer survivors and their families, Sacred Heart offers unique couples’ retreats, which are typically in the fall, for survivors of cancer and their spouses. While at the retreat, a social worker works with the couples to help educate them about their situation and to help them work through it as a couple. Baptist Hospital offers a unique man-to-man support group for survivors of prostate cancer.

Baptist Hospital and Sacred Heart Hospital both participate in Lilly Oncology on Canvas, which according to Terri Smith, V.P. of cancer services, is where, “Cancer patients can express their creativity on campus. They are given a canvas, paints and other media to create their work. Some of the pieces are really, really beautiful, while others are really meaningful.”

Sacred Heart typically hosts its exhibition in the fall. Baptist Hospital, however, will have its exhibition on June 5 at the open house for its new oncology offices and new infusion center. The theme of the exhibition is, “The Art of Surviving.” In addition to the art exhibition, Baptist will have local artist and cancer survivor Donna Franklin teach art classes to survivors to help them capture their experiences.

Marcia DeSonier, coordinator of cancer support service at Baptist Hospital, says, “We’re building our celebration around art…It’s a celebration of our survivors.”

Baptist Hospital offers digital mammography, which has the capability of 3D image viewing and MRI breast imaging.

Intensity Modulated Radiation Therapy (IMRT), which is offered by Baptist Hospital’s oncology team, uses 3D technologies to deliver radiation in more precise doses than previously allowed. They also offer Stereotactic Radiation Therapy, which uses narrow beams to treat brain tumors without surgery.

While hospitals in Pensacola may have various technologies to attract cancer patients, they all have one goal: to create as many survivors as possible. However, many survivors are fearful of whether or not they will be able to remain survivors.

“Once you’ve had cancer, it’s never really far from your mind. You don’t want to focus on it, because if you do, you’ll be unable to live your life normally. I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t anticipate it cropping up somewhere else.”

Eventually Lynn Tucker got her hardwood flooring, but it was post-cancer, when she finally had the strength and time to oversee her project implemented.