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Giving Hope

Posted August 08, 2012 in Uncategorized

It’s about hope. It’s about home. Some would say, it’s about time.

Pictured above: Keely Gunderson, Phil Gunderson, Shannon McQuillen, Carol Grannon, Adrienne Adams and Dr. Ken Adams.

And it’s about making sure, as a community, that when a cancer diagnosis is made, the people of Fort Dodge — as well as people across much of central and northwest Iowa — have a place to get well close to home.

Perhaps no one understands the gift of time better than a cancer patient. When Trinity Regional Medical Center’s (TRMC) new, comprehensive Cancer Center opens in September, it will be a gift of time, a gift of hope, and an opportunity for cancer patients to fight their battle against this awful disease on their own home turf.

When it comes to the battle of a lifetime, there’s nothing in the world like a home court advantage.

“It’s been an honor and a privilege to be part of an effort to bring cancer care to our community so that people can be treated and be well at home,” says Phil Gunderson, one of four co-chairs of the fund-raising campaign that made the new Trinity Cancer Center possible. Fellow co-chairs include his wife, Keely, along with Dr. Ken and Adrienne Adams.

Every option, every hope
Cancer is a battle fought on many fronts. Patients, and the team of medical professionals who care for them, choose carefully from among the arsenal of cancer treatments to carefully target the best weapon to defeat each individual cancer. But in Fort Dodge, one vital tool has been missing: a linear accelerator.

Cancer care at Trinity has long included surgical oncology, chemotherapy and other support services. But without a linear accelerator, cancer patients had to juggle their care plan and appointments in numerous communities, spending precious time on the road and sapping their bodies of what little energy cancer — and its exhausting treatment — had left them.

The linear accelerator provides radiation treatment and can be used in different types of cancers located throughout the body. An estimated 50 percent of cancer cases will employ radiation therapy as part of a treatment plan. For most, it’s a five-minute or less procedure, but it must conducted every day, typically over a 30-day period.

The linear accelerator now located at Trinity had been in use previously at the Bliss Cancer Center in Webster City but it was under-used there, and by moving it to a large facility it will be able to serve more people in their fight against cancer.

When TRMC purchased the linear accelerator, it also updated it with the newest technology available, according to Shannon McQuillen, executive director of Trinity Health Foundation and Director of Trinity Marketing and Public Relations.

Patients consult, making sure they are comfortable and understood all procedures, is an important part of the overall treatment plan. Laurie Walker, left, of the Twin Cities area, is fortunate to be receiving only a tour of the facility as Rae Anne Frey Marner, manager of the TRMC Cancer Center, explains the steps leading up to the radiation treatment.

“We did all of the upgrades to make it the most current piece of equipment available,” she says. “It will have many, many more years of useful life.”

And hopefully, so will the patients it’s here to help. But imagine what it was like for patients receiving care away from home. At the most trying times of their lives, cancer patients were traveling daily to Webster City or Des Moines for radiation, and then coming to Trinity for chemotherapy or other oncology appointments, and then finally returning home.

“It can be an entire day, and it can be exhausting,” says McQuillen.

Others were even leaving home, spending weeks out of state to receive radiation and other cancer care.

With the addition of the linear accelerator, Trinity is able to offer a truly comprehensive approach to treatment, giving patients a new option: a choice to be treated at home. They can have supper with their children, go to a grandchild’s Little League game, or even continue to work as possible. Perhaps most of all, they can just sleep in their own bed at night.

The Trinity Cancer Center is not about limiting choices, it’s about creating choices, choices desperately needed for a region of the state hard hit by cancer.

From 2003 to 2006, Trinity’s eight-county service area reported a cancer mortality rate 1.58 percent higher than the state norm. The four counties of Webster, Hamilton, Calhoun and Pocahontas had a mortality rate 7.65 percent higher than the Iowa norm.

A true, community effort
If there is one factor that can smooth out the roughest patches of any cancer journey, it’s the companionship of friends and family who ride out those most difficult days with the patient. Likewise, the journey to bring this comprehensive cancer center to Fort Dodge has benefited from the support of dedicated volunteers and donors who worked together throughout the long process of first gaining state approval for the facility, and then raising the funds to make it a reality.

From the outset, organizers believed that to be successful the effort needed to be a community-wide approach, according to McQuillen.

“I think it’s important for the community to feel ownership in these types of projects and know that they make a difference,” McQuillen says.

But before asking the community to contribute, Trinity officials looked within to their own employees. In so doing, they led by example and demonstrated their own conviction about the real and deep need for a more comprehensive approach to cancer care close to home. Trinity employees already had a history of being generous, and they did not disappoint when asked again.

“Our employees raised $380,000 for our hospice home campaign, so we really wanted to challenge them and get them to raise a little bit more,” McQuillen says. “We challenged them to raise $400,000; they raised $468,000.”

That’s even more impressive when one considers that it was accomplished at a time when TRMC had fewer FTEs (full-time equivalent) employees than in the previous campaign.

“They did a fantastic job,” McQuillen says of her fellow employees. “We had excellent participation, and it really helped that the Auxiliary challenged our employees and said they would match dollar-for-dollar what our employees raised.”

In all, 80 percent of TRMC employees participated, either through one-time donations, three-year pledges, or contributions of PTO hours back to the facility. Such support gave the effort credibility and strong legs to stand on when community-wide effort began.

“Once we went out to the community, and started reaching out to our physicians and board members, we had nearly a million dollars just from our Auxiliary and our employees,” McQuillen says.

The goal of the foundation was to raise $5 million toward the total estimated cost of $8.5 million. In all, the Cancer Center is about 11,000 square feet, the vast majority of which is new construction, coupled with renovated existing space.

A major turning point in the campaign came when an anonymous donor put out a community-wide challenge to join the effort.

“When we hit the $2 million mark, we asked an anonymous donor in the community, saying that’s actually the easy money to raise; those are the people that are so engaged, they’ve been waiting for this project,” McQuillen explains. “It’s the next $3 million that’s going to be hard. So we asked if they would consider matching dollar-for-dollar, up to $1.5 million, and they said yes — and that really gave us huge momentum. People were really engaged; very, very excited about the match.”

McQuillen describes the anonymous donor as a person who is very humble, but who wanted to make a difference. In creating a match program, this person wanted to inspire others to give whatever they could afford, knowing that their individual gifts of $5, $10 or $1,000 would be doubled by the anonymous donor who had not just the financial resources to give, but the human compassion and desire to give.

“The anonymous donor wanted the community to feel invested in the success of the campaign as well,” she says of the matching dollar program.

“We feel so appreciative of what they have done for this project. We would still be raising money today if it weren’t for that anonymous donation. We’re so grateful for that support,” McQuillen adds.

As the campaign was nearing its final goal, it received a final push over the top from the Trinity Auxiliary

“We had about $115,000 left on the campaign, and our Auxiliary was ahead of paying their pledge schedule. They met and decided they wanted to continue to support the campaign, and they rounded up their gift from $468,000 to an even $600,000,” McQuillen explains.

It should also be noted that anyone who has shopped at the hospital gift shop or participated in the LifeLine services has supported the Auxiliary, which is led by Kathy Moe at TRMC.

With such broad support, from donors large and small, to employees, and even shoppers, it’s clear that organizers more than accomplished the goal of making it a community-wide effort.

McQuillen makes it clear that every dollar mattered, and every contributor should feel proud of his or her part in the project.

“I feel incredible gratitude towards every single person who supported this campaign. We really could not have done it without the support of the entire community,” she says.

We’re in this fight together
Walking through the new and comprehensive Trinity Cancer Center in the finals weeks of construction, one feels blessed to be walking these halls in good health, seeing this place only as an observer, learning what the community has created.

There are bright open spaces, windows awash in sunlight and warmth. It was located at the front of the hospital to make it an easy journey for cancer patients, complete with valet parking.

The linear accelerator is housed in a vault of concrete four to five feet thick, cushioned behind lead bricks. In all, enough concrete was used in creating the vault to stretch from the Trinity campus all the way to Wal-Mart on the other side of town.

The door to the vault swings open easily, despite its 15,000-pound heft. Inside, staff will have constant audio and video contact with the patient.

But let’s face it: It can be a frightening place.

Fortunately this place is created to shorten the journey back to good health. It is a place designed to offer “Every Option, Every Hope.”

When you walk through this lonely canyon of  and concrete, you are not walking alone. Thousands in this community have given what they could to walk with you.

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