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Cancer Treatment extended to Athens

Athens Cancer Center 


The old has been made new in 2011 … and ETMC is literally be ringing it in. The ETMC Cancer Institute in Athens, which closed its doors this past summer for remodeling and updating, held a public dedication ceremony recently. In addition to the facility itself, a “Hope Bell” for cancer patients was also unveiled. The hope bell will be rung in celebration to mark the end of a patient’s course of radiation therapy.

Elmer G. Ellis (left), president/CEO of the ETMC Regional Healthcare System, and cancer patient Robert Harper of Corsicana, stand beside the Bell of Hope, which was dedicated at the newly renovated ETMC Cancer Institute in Athens. The cancer institute boasts new radiation oncology technology, providing advanced cancer care more conveniently to the area, and allowing patients to stay closer to home for their treatment.  
“As any cancer survivor will tell you, the journey of cancer is marked by many milestones,” explained Elmer G. Ellis, president/CEO of the East Texas Medical Center Regional Healthcare System. “These can be a successful surgery, a completed round of chemotherapy, a final radiation treatment or a good report from the doctor. The Hope Bell provides a means for patients and their families to celebrate such a milestone in the spirit of enduring hope.”

The primary objective behind the cancer institute’s renovation was to replace the previous linear accelerator, used to deliver radiation, with a state-of-the-art dual energy machine. The dual energy linear accelerator is the most current technology of its kind available, allowing patients to receive even more precise radiation treatments with even fewer side effects. The new machine also speeds up the delivery of treatment. Internal mechanisms allow for the shape and intensity of the radiation beam to be altered without the use of external lead blocks and wedges, which previously were moved around by a therapist during a session.

In addition to switching out the machines, much of the time required by the renovation involved adding more lead to the vault which houses the more powerful equipment. The clinic was also remodeled to improve patient flow, and a lighted nature mural was added to the ceiling of the treatment room.

“We want our patients to have something other than ceiling tiles to look at while they’re receiving treatment,” said Todd Sigmon, vice president of the ETMC Cancer Institute. “We know undergoing radiation therapy is difficult, so if we can help ease someone’s mind a bit by placing a nature scene on the ceiling, then we want to do that.”

The extensive renovation to the facility is part of ETMC’s continuing commitment to bringing the best possible healthcare to Henderson County. In December 2009, ETMC Regional Healthcare System purchased what was up until then known as the Athens Cancer Center.

Radiation oncologist and ETMC Cancer Institute Medical Director Dr. Heidi McKellar has continued to conduct consultations and make treatment assessments in Athens throughout the transition period. Dr. McKellar is an example of ETMC’s second-to-none commitment. A former Stanford University professor, she trained at the world-renowned MD Anderson Cancer Center.

“We pride ourselves on the fact that the medical staff in Athens is excellent,” said Sigmon. “We have doctors here who have trained at some of the best cancer centers in the country. Now that we’re able to deliver IMRT (intensity modulated radiation therapy) and all other external beam radiation treatment, there is no reason to seek radiation therapy elsewhere. Our patients will receive the highest level of care from doctors who work and live among them, using the best equipment available anywhere.”

Friday’s dedication commences with remarks at noon, followed by an open house. The cancer institute is located near the hospital, at 1801 S. Palestine Street. The public is welcome.

Due to limited parking at the cancer institute, guests are asked to park in the ETMC Athens medical office complex lot across the street and use the ETMC courtesy shuttle to the event.

About the Bell 

The Hope Bell, which is to be dedicated Friday along with the renovated cancer institute building, was hand-cast for ETMC by U.S. Bells in Prospect Harbor, Maine. The 8-inch, ship’s-style bell bears the word HOPE beautifully embossed into the bronze. A plaque next to the bell reads: The Hope Bell/For our patients – Ring out the bell loud and true as you celebrate completion of your treatment!

The ETMC Cancer Institute in Tyler dedicated “Robyn’s Bell” in December 2007, as it marked the 25th anniversary of the center. It is named for Robyn Rogers, who is a cancer survivor, philanthropist and friend of ETMC. The Hope Bell in Athens has been made possible through support from several community members, and additional gifts are welcomed in honor or memory of others.

For further information, contact the ETMC Foundation at 903-596-3645.