Providing One-Stop Care for Cancer Patients
By Lindsey Townsend
It’s everyone’s worst nightmare: you walk into your doctor’s office one afternoon for a routine physical, feeling fine, and you’re told that you have cancer. Hard to believe, but it happened to Eugene (Gus) Mussett, a 58-year-old industrial trainer from Allen, Texas, just over two years ago, when a urologist first diagnosed him with prostate cancer. “It was the biggest shock I ever had,” he recalls.
Unfortunately, Gus’s experience is far from unique. According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), prostate cancer is the No. 2 cancer killer of men in America (after lung cancer). More than 185,000 new cases of prostate cancer in the United States are discovered each year, and about 39,000 men die from the disease annually.
Since prostate cancer is often asymptomatic in its early, curable stages, it’s important for men to be aware they are at risk. The ACS recommends that all men over the age of 50 ask their doctors about having a PSA (Prostate Specific Antigen) blood test and a digital rectal exam annually. Although researchers are uncertain what causes prostate cancer, there are certain risk factors linked to the disease, including age, diet, and genetic links. Because of this, men in high-risk groups such as African-Americans and men with family members who have had prostate cancer should talk to their physicians about starting the screenings even earlier, in their 40s. The earlier the diagnosis, the better the odds for successful treatment.
As soon as he was diagnosed, Gus began exploring his options. “I immediately starting trying to figure out what the best methods of treatment were and what was available,” he says. Through research and referrals, he soon discovered the Arlington Cancer Center right in his own backyard of North Texas. With the motto of “Practically everything a cancer patient needs, under one roof,” the Center completes over 200 outpatient treatments daily-more than 55,000 a year-for nearly every type of cancer. Lab Director Kathy Ferguson says, “We have people come here from all over the world. It’s not unusual to have people from 8 to 10 states and two countries represented here in a day.”
What’s attracting that international crowd is a staff of leading physicians, Ph.Ds, nurses, technologists and therapists that provide comprehensive cancer treatment in a compassionate, personalized atmosphere. Arlington’s range of services includes autologous bone marrow and stem cell transplantation; chemotherapy; brachytherapy, or radioactive seeding; breast cancer treatment; diagnostic radiology; radiation therapy; a prostate seeding program; an onsite pharmacy; and three laboratories, including a bone marrow lab that tests, processes and stores patients’ bone marrow.
“Nobody wants to be treated for cancer, but if you have it, this is a good place to be. We have excellent doctors and caregivers. We try to make it as easy as possible on our patients and provide everything they need right here,” Kathy says. “…When you’ve got cancer, you don’t want to run around town to five different places to try to get your prescription filled.”
Arlington is one of only a few treatment centers nationwide using a computer system for three-dimensional reconstruction and analysis of diagnostic images, which results in more clearly-defined tumors and enhanced diagnostic accuracy. Kathy says, “We have the ability to diagnose earlier than ever before. There’s been a huge improvement in the specificity and the increased number of protocols available for diseases.”
Arlington’s approach to fighting cancer involves a multi-disciplinary program. In Gus’s case, a combination of hormone, radiation, and implant therapy was used over the course of several months. He experienced virtually no side effects from his treatment, which he attributes to the expertise of the staff and the specificity of the equipment used to limit radiation to the tumor area, which minimized damage to the healthy surrounding cells. At his last checkup, he was symptom-free, and his PSA registered well within the safe range. “I’m as normal as anyone can be,” he says.
Today, Gus’s aftercare involves a physical every three months to monitor his PSA level and ensure that he remains in remission. Looking back, he says that it was the staff at Arlington that made the experience as positive as possible under the circumstances.“It was a lot easier to go through because of the people involved. If the people around you are up, it’s a whole lot easier to do disagreeable things,” he says. “Everyone is extremely professional, knowledgeable, and efficient, but it doesn’t feel like a hospital atmosphere. I’ve never run into anyone there who wasn’t smiling, who wasn’t willing to stop and answer your questions. You’re not just someone going through the system on a conveyor belt: they know you by name. I don’t know how they do it.”
Kathy agrees that there’s something special going on at Arlington Cancer Center. “We have a very unique staff. The people that work here love this facility and their patients, and it shows…Anybody can have high-tech. Not everyone can give these patients the love and support they receive here,” she says.