Print Cancer center announces new partnership with U of A
Written by Christopher Fox Graham   
Monday, 12 March 2012 00:00

With a clink of champagne glasses, doctors celebrated the new union.

About 120 doctors, nurses, medical practitioners and Sedona community leaders came together Friday, March 2, to celebrate the opening of the remodelled Cancer Centers of Northern Arizona Healthcare at the Sedona campus of Verde Valley Medical Center.

While new equipment and facilities alone was reason enough to celebrate, the champagne came out when Dr. James Bleicher, president and CEO of VVMC and the Cancer Centers of NAH, announced an affiliation agreement with the University of Arizona Cancer Center. He said the process toward affiliation was a year-long “labor of love.”

Dr. James Bleicher, president and CEO of Verde Valley Medical Center and the Cancer Centers of Northern Arizona Healthcare, announced an affiliation agreement with the University of Arizona Cancer Center. “We have a deep commitment to Sedona and deep commitment to cancer care,” Bleicher said.

The program won’t send doctors back and forth between the hospital in Sedona and the university in Tucson, but will foster the sharing ideas, protocol and research, Bleicher said.

“We’ll be working together on … population management, research, teaching, education,” Bleicher said. “Conditions will stay as they are here but we’ll bring the expertise and backing of that cancer center up here.”

Bleicher said the U of A connection will give the Sedona cancer center some guidance as it deals with a growing population, as the hospital has operated on its own until recently.

While no U of A students are expected to study in Sedona, he said, at some point in the future, the Sedona center may bring up specialists from Tucson.

Radiation therapist Neil Hanson, right, demonstrates the  workings of a new linear radiation therapy machine for Sedona  resident Susan Kliewer during an open house at Verde Valley Medical Center’s Sedona campus. Center staff, board members, doctors and other dignitaries celebrated the newly renovated campus, which includes an upgraded, state-of-the-art cancer center. Bleicher said Cancer Centers of NAH and U of A had the same goals to improve the health of the population, find cancer earlier and even prevent it.

“Cancer is a serious disease, and we need a serious solution,” Bleicher said.

U of A Cancer Center is the only National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center in Arizona. Sedona patients will have access to leading-edge research trials as well as the expertise of the U of A Cancer Center’s physician and scientist members, according to a joint statement issued by the two caner centers.

“We chose to affiliate with Verde Valley Medical Center and the Cancer Centers of Northern Arizona Healthcare because of the high quality of care they provide and their commitment to being on the cutting edge of cancer treatment,” stated Dr. David S. Alberts, a 12-year Sedona resident and the U of A Cancer Center director.

“We are committed to supporting the care and treatment of cancer patients throughout the state and are honored be part of the cancer team at the cancer center in Sedona,” he said.

The Sedona center also showcased its new Varian Medical Systems linear accelerator, a high-tech radiological device used to attack cancerous tumors.

Lead radiation therapist Neil Hanson demonstrated to visitors Friday how the $2 million state-of-the-art piece of equipment uses X-rays to pinpoint the exact shape of a cancer patient’s tumor. Technicians and the machine use those images to program dozens of individual metal “fingers” in the multileaf collimator to adjust the shape of the emitter lens to match the shape of the tumor inside the body.

The “fingers” block parts of the path of the particle beam irradiating the tumor so only the isocenter gets a major dose of radiation, leaving nearby, non-cancerous tissue relatively unharmed.

The specialized equipment can shorten the length of a patient’s treatment from six to seven weeks of daily treatments down to just one week, Bleicher said.

The building was also remodeled, offering more relaxing and isolated waiting rooms for patients undergoing chemotherapy and radiation treatment.

The new center was part of the vision of the late Si Birch, VVMC Board Chairman Matias Sandoval said. Birch’s goal was not only to have a place for emergency services for Sedona residents but also to have state of the art treatment available locally so residents didn’t have to drive to Flagstaff for care.