Cancer center reflects generosity, new source of hope

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

A cancer diagnosis is a shock, whether it's ourselves, a loved one or friend who receives the news. Add to that the uncertainties of the availability of treatment, and the prognosis almost becomes secondary.

Thanks to advances in diagnosis and treatment, the prognosis is good for the majority of cancer patients, and now, thanks to a new project at Community Hospital, so is the availability of treatment.

A groundbreaking ceremony at 1 p.m. Tuesday will celebrate the beginning of construction on a new, 4,200-square-foot Radiation Oncology Center adjoining the Medical Specialists Center on the hospital campus on East H Street.

In years past, radiation treatment of cancer required miles of travel, over several weeks of time, as far as across the state, for treatments that take only a matter of minutes.

That improved for Southwest Nebraskans, with the opening of the Callahan Cancer Center at Great Plains Regional Medical Center in North Platte, cutting travel time to a little more than an hour from McCook.

With the opening of the new McCook treatment center, accomplished in cooperation with the North Platte center, that travel time will be slashed even farther.

"We have known for many years the ability to provide radiation oncology in McCook will save our patients hours of travel and allow them the convenience and comfort of staying nearer their homes," said Jim Ulrich, Community Hospital president and CEO.

Ulrich noted that Southwest Nebraska has an average of 325 new cancer cases annually, above the national average, making the service all the more important.

Many pieces of the puzzle had to fit together to create the new facility, and local patients will benefit as a result. Key among them is the cooperative agreement between Great Plains Regional Medical Center and Community Hospital, but funding, of course, is the other major factor.

It's an ongoing process, but the generosity of Andy Anderson and his late wife, Geri, with a $500,000 lead gift, added to a $3 million grant from The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust, coupled with a USDA Rural Development loan of up to $2.3 million, and $200,000 or more committed from Community Hospital reserves made Tuesday's groundbreaking possible.

The generosity of donors shouldn't be taken for granted, but neither is it surprising. Donors have always played a key part in the success of Community Hospital, a tradition that will continue with the John Mullen Pro-Am Golf Tournament, June 7-9 at Heritage Hills in McCook. That tournament was founded in 1988 by Bernie and Nona Mullen in memory of their son, John, an accomplished golfer who died of cancer at age 23.

Learning that someone has cancer can leave one with a feeling of helplessness, but projects like Community Hospital's new Radiation Oncology Center help create optimism and hope as well as an opportunity to do our part to fight a feared disease.

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