Wednesday, May 3, 2017 12:00 AM

Topping off marks milestone for cancer care in the Valley

There was applause and cell phone cameras clicking as the last steel beam was lifted to the top of the three-story shell of what will soon be Community Medical Centers’ $68 million, 100,000-square-foot comprehensive cancer and research facility. The regional treatment and research center opens in 2018 on the Clovis Community Medical Center campus adjacent to Highway 168.
“Cancer ranks as a leading cause of death in the country. There are 12,000 new cancer diagnoses in the Valley each year and a quarter of the patients seen at Community choose to seek care outside of the Valley,” said John Strubert, vice president of cancer services at Community. He addressed cancer survivors, doctors, hospital staff and donors who gathered May 3 to sign the last beam before it was welded into place.

Gordon Carlson, a lung cancer survivor, signs the last steel beam before it goes up on Community’s new cancer center. Carlson’s cancer treatment in 2013 was expedited through Community Regional and UCSF Fresno’s lung nodule program. The steel structure for the cancer center is in the background.
“In surveys of cancer patients, their number one request is to receive all their care under one roof. That’s what we’re trying to do here,” said Strubert. Cancer care and expertise currently provided in multiple locations, including Community Regional Medical Center in downtown Fresno, the California Cancer Center in north Fresno and Clovis Community, will be consolidated here to provide a seamless experience for patients.
The vision for the cancer center is to bring comprehensive outpatient services under one roof including imaging, radiation and chemotherapy, and to facilitate a multidisciplinary team of physicians and support staff to provide one place for patients to come for their clinic visits, lab work, medications, and support services, which currently require visiting different providers in different locations.

Wells Fargo Bank was the first to donate to the cancer center construction. Sandy Raco, the bank’s Central Valley Market President, signs the last beam with Katie Zenovich, vice president and chief development officer for Community.
“Going through a cancer diagnosis is one of the hardest things that people will face in their lives and to be able to locate all the services they will need during their cancer treatment in one place is a huge step forward for oncology in the Central Valley,” said Dr. Michael Moffett, who specializes in hematology and oncology. “And what’s key is having it near the hospital. It’s really perfect.”
With most kinds of cancer, patients have to travel between several locations for surgery, imaging, chemotherapy, radiation and follow up, said Dr. Moffett. That can slow down treatment and create unneeded stress for patients.
“It’s really just extra stress to have to go to different places,” agreed breast cancer survivor Nicole Butler. Her treatment at the Marjorie E. Radin Breast Care Center on the Clovis Community campus was in stark contrast to what many cancer patients deal with, she said.

The beam goes up in the air. As is the tradition among steel workers, the last beam is decorated with an American flag and a Christmas tree.
The Radin Breast Cancer care model includes a nurse navigator that helps guide patients through their treatment. Radiologists, oncologists, surgeons, therapist and other clinicians meet weekly and design a care plan for each patient as a team, helping to expedite treatment. This treatment model is being replicated for other types of cancer as part of Community’s cancer program.
The new cancer center’s goal is to become a “Designated Cancer Center” by the National Cancer Institute.  Ten such centers exist in California, but none in the San Joaquin Valley. “Clinical trials are important for the advancement of cancer care and we will become the hub of clinical trials with this facility,” said Dr. Christopher Perkins, an oncologist who attended the topping off ceremony and is a member of Community’s medical advisory committee for cancer services.
“With this cancer center we hope to provide state-of-the-art cancer treatment and disease-specific clinical trials with novel agents (that target the specific type of cancer cell) all under one roof,” said Dr. Uzair Chaudhary, a hematology and oncology specialist who is a member of Community’s cancer services medical advisory committee.
The new cancer center will include space for up to four linear accelerators for radiation treatment, the latest in digital imaging, CT and MRI scanners, and the newest version of CyberKnife, a laser surgical system used to treat hard-to-reach tumors. The cancer center also has on order the second all-digital PET/CT scanner in California. The digital PET/CT scanner can image both bone and soft tissue at the same time. The new technology is faster and creates clearer pictures, so patients spend far less time in the scanner and doctors are able to detect much smaller specks of cancer than what can be seen with traditional analog scanners.

“It’s amazing to have that technology here in Fresno,” said prostate cancer survivor Neil Hamilton. He had four CyberKnife treatments six years ago to cure his cancer and he continues to be monitored as part of a 10-year CyberKnife research study.
“I looked up the number of those pieces of equipment there were around the country and I was amazed that we had one,” Hamilton said. “I was so surprised by the quality of services at Community. When I was there, people were coming over from the coast to use the CyberKnife here. My treatment was so easy and painless compared to what others with cancer go through.”
Hamilton and other grateful survivors added their signatures to the steel beam with hopes that their treatment success would bless the cancer care space.
“I saw the invitation and I knew I needed to be here,” said Novilito Tolentino, a Community Regional patient care assistant who just returned to work after renal cancer surgery in February at Clovis Community. He was eager to sign the beam and celebrate with other survivors. “My kidney was removed and I’m cancer free.”
Reported by Erin Kennedy. Reach her at