CARE & COMPASSION

CARE & COMPASSION

COVER STORY

CARE & COMPASSION

Atlantic General Hospital continues its tradition of industry-leading care and treatment while preparing its brand-new, all-in-one Regional Cancer Care Center to help patients with cancer and blood disorders across four Eastern Shore counties

Written By: Jonathan Westman | Photographer: GRANT L. GURSKY

As it has been for many decades, cancer continues to be the second-leading cause of death in the United States, accounting for more than 590,000 deaths in 2014, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In Maryland and Delaware, the incidences of cancer are actually higher than the national average. Even more concerning, the mortality rate for Worcester County and Somerset County residents diagnosed with cancer is nearly 10% higher than the Maryland statewide rate, and more than 750 new cancer cases are diagnosed in Worcester, Somerset and southeast Sussex Counties every year. 

One such diagnosis was given to Jim Taylor of Ocean Pines. Taylor is an accomplished man: He defended our country while in U.S. Navy; battled blazes as a Washington, D.C., firefighter; and helped families find their ideal homes as a Realtor and real-estate developer. He also raised five successful children and is grandfather to seven thriving youngsters.

But when this Montgomery County native was diagnosed with a bevy of cancerous tumors last February, it never crossed his mind to leave the Shore to seek treatment at the major healthcare facilities in either D.C. or Baltimore. Taylor has lived in Worcester County for the past 19 years and considers this his home — and he sought treatment from the cancer experts at his hometown hospital, Atlantic General.

“People will say that because we live on the Eastern Shore, we don’t receive the best care, but that couldn’t be further from the truth,” Taylor said. “I am totally impressed with the care I have received from Dr. [Rabinda] Paul and his staff. 

“I had confidence in AGH from the very beginning,” Taylor continued. “They had my protocol spelled out, and they have been very communicative about my situation. Going elsewhere for treatment was not an option for me.”

Taylor, a lifelong outdoorsman, said his cancer could have resulted from a combination of factors, including cigarette smoking from years ago, inhalation of smoke and chemicals while fighting fires, sun exposure, recent incidences of melanoma, and more. Regardless of the cause or causes, he’s in for the fight of his life.

“Following a PET scan [at 21st Century Oncology], it was determined that cancer was affecting my neck, chest, abdomen, ribs, pubic bones, femur, scapula, sacrum, spine and pelvis. I think they left my ears out,” the 83-year-old Taylor said with his trademark charm. “Needless to say, that wasn’t good news.”

Taylor, who was given an initial prognosis of 12 to 18 months, receives infusions of immunotherapy and monthly injections for his bone cancer at the Regional Cancer Care Center, inside the James G. Barrett Medical Office Building on the AGH campus in Berlin. At press time, Taylor had undergone two rounds of radiation.

In his stressful and frightening situation, Taylor, who is also a man of faith, has been impressed with the open lines of communication among doctors, nurses and the patient.

“Everyone is very personable and extremely knowledgeable and responsive. I cannot speak highly enough of the entire team there,” Taylor said. “I told them, and they agreed, that I am going to have a hand in the way we go, treatment-wise. I want quality of life, and if the medications are adversely affecting that quality over a certain length of time, then we’re going to moderate them or do something different.

“I also have an after-care nurse who visits my home,” Taylor added. “If she has any questions about my treatments or medications, she makes one phone call, and she has her answers immediately.”

To express his gratitude, Taylor frequently brings the nursing staff cookies and candies and even writes personal sentiments on small sticky notes — all of which have been posted by the staff on the center’s refrigerator.

“When you have a serious illness, it’s comforting to know you are getting quality care with a little TLC, too. I want them to know how much they’re appreciated.” 

Taylor recently received positive news regarding his lastest round of treatments.

“I had a second PET scan, and the doctors said I had shown marked improvement,” Taylor said. “I am not naive enough to think I’m cured, but I do think that the cancer could be arrested. Now, we’ll see from here.”

Taylor had additional appointments with 21st Century Oncology and Dr. Paul scheduled for late December (after our to-press date) to determine his status.

 

For years, AGH’s Regional Cancer Care Center has been providing treatment to community residents afflicted with various types of the disease. In direct response to the urgent need to continue to this mission, a new, state-of-the-art facility, named the John H. “Jack” Burbage, Jr. Regional Cancer Care Center, will open in 2018 on the AGH campus.

We asked prominent members of the hospital and its various boards about the need for this center, why their belief is so strong in cancer care at Atlantic General and how the new center will benefit the community.

 

The subjects: 

Michael Franklin, President and CEO of Atlantic General Hospital

Dr. Rabindra Paul, Regional Cancer Care Center 

Dr. Roopa Gupta, Regional Cancer Care Center

Jack Burbage, co-chair of the Atlantic General Campaign for the Future

Michelle Fager, co-chair of the Atlantic General Campaign for the Future

 

 

A CENTER FOR HOPE

Serving Worcester, Wicomico, Sussex and Somerset Counties, the single-floor, 18,000 sq. ft. facility, to be located in front of the Berlin Nursing and Rehabilitation Center (at the intersection of Route 113 and Old Ocean City Boulevard), will be an all-in-one treatment center for cancer and blood-disorder patients.

“It is critical that the cancer-care needs of our fellow residents be addressed locally, right along with the other community healthcare services AGH has continuously provided since its founding in 1993,” said Fager. “Cancer is a disease that as touched us all in some way. As we speak, there is someone you know, whether it’s a family member, neighbor, coworker, loved one or maybe even yourself, dealing with this disease and the physical, psychological and financial struggles and challenges that accompany it. Having compassionate care, minutes from home, with every phase of care under one roof, combined with access through telemedicine to the finest oncology specialists in the country, is a dream come true for local families dealing with this disease.” 

”We are reminded every single day by our patients and their families how grateful they are to not have to drive three hours for care that can be easily given locally by well-trained, board-certified physicians,” Dr. Gupta said. 

“As a community cancer center, we provide high-quality, compassionate care; keep up on the latest advances; and offer many patients options, including seeking consultation from experts in other academic centers and planning treatments with all relevant specialists,” Dr. Paul said. “Patients do not have to travel farther and wait longer to receive treatment. The wait time between diagnosis and initial chemotherapy visit is significantly shorter at our Regional Cancer Care Center. We also offer same-day or next-day appointments for individuals who have just received a cancer diagnosis.”

 

 

A CENTER OF TECHNOLOGY

“This new facility will have the ability to provide chemotherapy and radiation treatments that we haven’t been able to provide before,” said Franklin. “Along with that, we’ll have opportunities for support activities and involvement from local support groups.”

“AGH provides various diagnostic, treatments and support services, and promotes cancer prevention and early detection through education and responsible individual health choices, as well as the development of efficient and accessible screening services, like mammography, colonoscopy, CT scans for lung cancer, cervical cancer and many more,” Dr. Paul said.

“We are trained and equipped to provide any chemotherapy and immunotherapy that is FDA-approved right here in our infusion center,” Dr. Gupta said. “We are in an era of personalized medicine and targeted therapy in oncology.

We are excited that we bring our community every advancement available today for oncology. We also coordinate with pathologists, who provide advanced testing, especially molecular testing, on patients’ tumors, to tailor regimens that provide more personalized medicine and care.”

“In addition to existing medical oncology, hematology and chemotherapy-infusion services, the new cancer center will provide radiation-oncology services, a mobile PET scan, laboratory services and telemedicine technology that will allow patients and their physicians to consult with University of Maryland Medical Center’s Marlene and Stewart Greenebaum Comprehensive Cancer Center,” Dr. Paul said. “This will allow us to provide treatment remotely for more complex cancer diagnoses. The center is a National Cancer Institute-designated cancer center. We’re really excited to offer this because our patients will be able to receive treatment and guidance from subspecialists without leaving the Shore. It is important to note that the telemedicine care and ancillary services are new services to Worcester County, not just a repackaging of services that already exist here.”

 

 

A CENTER OF OUR COMMUNITY 

“AGH’s staff, physicians and board members live here and are part of this community, and we share a common goal to provide access to the healthcare services our friends and neighbors need,” Burbage said. “Comprehensive cancer care and access to nationally recognized cancer specialists through telemedicine here, close to home, are very much needed. With our longstanding relationship with the community, AGH is the right hospital to provide those services.” 

“This project, like everything else AGH has done, is truly by and for the local community,” Fager said. “It involves us all; it will benefit us all; it is the right direction to head in for the good of us all. I encourage every community member to partner with us to help in reaching our goal for the Campaign for the Future. It’s truly a campaign that will bestow countless blessings in many ways.”

“Cancer causes extreme distress, fear and anxiety in not just the patient but also their loved ones,” Dr. Gupta said. “There are financial, emotional and physical toxicities that these patients have to endure. This center will help them, by minimizing the need to go back and forth to different places. This is going to be a wonderful treatment facility and a healing place for all our patients. We are excited for our patients and staff to have this new facility, which is designed specifically with the cancer patient in mind.”  

“Significant improvements in cancer diagnosis, treatments and care have been made over the past decade, and many cancers can be controlled and managed for long periods of time -— so much so that many of these cancers are now considered chronic conditions rather than the potential or probable diagnosis of death,” Dr. Paul said.

“Cancer survivors require ongoing therapy to control their conditions — much like people with diabetes or high blood pressure. This, however, requires patients to be monitored by a physician on a regular basis,” Dr. Paul continued. “Cancer care here locally allows our patients to continue their normal life, and they don’t have to leave town every time for their treatments, follow-up visits and diagnostic tests. It’s less of a disruption. This equates to less travel time to see cancer specialists or to receive treatments and will provide more time with their families and less interruption of daily lives, less stress and fewer ER visits.”

 

 

A CENTER FOR AN AGING POPULATION

“Cancer usually develops in older people; 86% of all cancers in the U.S. are diagnosed in people 50 years of age and older,” Dr. Paul said. “Aging of the population will cause the number of cancer cases diagnosed in the U.S. to nearly double over the next decade. Cancer care is a growing need for our aging population in Worcester County and surrounding counties. 

“The residents of this region, particularly over the age of 65, deserve to have the appropriate cancer care available close to home,” Dr. Paul continued. “It is bad enough to have a cancer diagnosis, but to have to travel long distances to receive treatments for cancer can create additional stress for the patient and their caregivers.”

 

 

A CENTER OF COMPASSIONATE CARE

“My personal philosophy as an oncologist is to deliver quality, cutting-edge care in a very personalized and compassionate manner. It is extremely important to me that I be able to provide this to all my patients,” Dr. Gupta said. “My philosophy aligns with what AGH stands for, and that is the reason why I chose AGH and moved to the Eastern Shore from the D.C. area. I would say patients and providers should choose AGH for that very reason.”

“Our interdisciplinary team of physicians, nurses, social workers and other professionals collaborate to meet the physical, emotional and social needs of patients and their families,” Dr. Paul said. “Our staff and nurses are sensitive to each patient’s emotional and mental state, in addition to the needs and wishes of family members and other caregivers. Our oncology care, compassion for patients and dedication will improve cancer care in this community.”

“What sets us apart is not just our advanced specialized training and experience but also the most personalized and most compassionate care we give,” Dr. Gupta said. “Both Dr. Paul and I feel very confident in our training and in our team, and we’re making a positive impact in our patients’ and their loved ones’ lives.”

 

 

A CENTER FOR WORCESTER COUNTY AND THE SURROUNDING AREAS

“The fact that my name will be on the beautiful new Regional Cancer Care Center brought a tear to my eye because I just wish it was here for my mom when she so dearly needed it and suffered so much,” Burbage said. “It’s incredibly important to me that the very latest in cancer treatment be delivered by Atlantic General Hospital, and it’s something I hope our whole community will support. Atlantic General was built by and for our community. Establishing our own hospital here in Worcester County was a hard-won battle, and the resulting 23-year relationship with Atlantic General has saved so many lives and improved the health of countless others. It only makes sense that they be the ones to help guide those who receive a cancer diagnosis — and their loves ones — through the life-changing process of treatment and recovery right here at home.” 


 

REGIONAL CANCER CARE CENTER   
410-629-6888   
AtlanticGeneral.org

 


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