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Community is making incredible strides in providing complete cancer care

Cancer patients have even more to look forward to at Community Medical Center’s new cutting-edge cancer treatment center than they first knew.

The $15 million Community Cancer Care Center is slated to open Sept. 30 and will include radiation therapy services as one prong of an integrated care approach that includes chemotherapy, nutrition, pharmacy, multiple support services, an in-house lab, clinical visits and surgical services, said Steve Carlson, Community’s CEO.

“That’s really when oncology services are at their best,” Carlson said.

The Billings Clinic is partnering with Community on the radiation wing of the center and will provide a full-time radiation oncologist to operate the Elekta Volumetric Modulated Arc Therapy machine.

Treatment times will be decreased, and less tissue around the treatment area will be damaged using the therapy, said Randall Gibb, director at the Billings Clinic Cancer Center.

Gibb has traveled to Missoula to provide gynecologic oncology services for several years and said he’s excited to expand that relationship with the new partnership, which will provide full-time radiation therapy services so patients know their doctor will be available and will no longer have to travel to receive treatments.

“In our minds, this will be a natural extension of what I’ve been doing the past four years,” Gibb said.

The partnership also allows for increased clinical trials, in which many patients are eager to participate, he said.

Partnering with the Billings Clinic allows Community to provide the best cancer care to local patients, Carlson said, touting Billings as one of 16 centers nationwide to be designated as a National Cancer Institute Community Cancer Center Program. The center also is a member of the Mayo Clinic Care Network.

“It’s our hope that we can bring that level of sophistication in cancer care to the western portion of the state,” Gibb said.

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The radiation therapy wing is expected to open to patients by spring 2014.

When the current cancer center at Community opened about five years ago, its 4,000 square feet were at capacity immediately. Demand for cancer therapies and treatments is expected to dramatically increase, with a study by the Institute of Medicine showing that 18 million cancer patients will need treatments by 2022.

“The demand is real, and it’s projected to increase,” Carlson said.

“The demand is there for a new center,” he added, and the new center will provide cutting-edge and evidence-based care through Montana Cancer Specialists doctors William Nichols and Patrick Beatty.

The new center’s combined 28,000 square feet of room will accommodate growth, he added. The portion of the center slated to open at the end of this month will amount to more than 18,000 square feet.

Hamilton resident Jim Johnson has been coming to Community since the current cancer facility opened to control his non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and said he is looking forward to some extra room.

He began treatment 10 years ago with Nichols and transferred to Community when Nichols did.

Once a month, Johnson comes to the center for an infusion.

“It’s not something you look forward to, but it’s not something you dread,” he said, crediting caring nurses and doctors with making the experience bearable.

On Thursday, Johnson watched construction on the new center from his perch in the old facility while he received an infusion.

“Anything new is a step forward,” he said. “Definitely there will be more room in the infusion center where people can spread out more.”

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More room will equate to more privacy, he said.

“Sometimes you don’t want to share with your fellow patients what’s going on with your relationship with your doctor,” he said, adding that cramped quarters make it impossible not to overhear conversations sometimes.

Privacy is heightened throughout the new center, from the lobby where patients check in to the room where they receive treatment, Carlson said.

In the chemotherapy wing, patients will have the option of receiving treatment in a semi-private pod area or in a private room.

They can take in soccer practice or just enjoy the scenery through large windows that allow patients to feel connected to the world around them, instead of isolated in a cancer treatment center. If patients need a little quiet time or fresh air, they can head out to the healing garden, Carlson said.

Offering comprehensive cancer treatment options for patients will be convenient too, Carlson said.

“But beyond convenience, what excites me is ... Come here, I’ll show you something,” he said during a recent tour of the facility. “This is the conference room.”

The room is a space where care providers can meet to discuss the best course of treatment for patients, he said.

People can see the new center for themselves during an open house from 4-7 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 26.

For more on the center, go to communitymed.org.