Life as Usual
When Toni Clarke found out she had breast cancer, she braced herself for a long, difficult journey. She stressed about how she would manage her two young girls’ busy schedules, how she would drive into Omaha for appointments and day-long chemotherapy treatments, and how she would keep up with work and family.
As it turns out, Clarke barely missed a beat.
Clarke was able to see her oncologist Beth Reed, MD, at the new Bellevue Medical Office Building at South 25th St. and Highway 370 — less than 10 minutes from her home. Her chemotherapy treatments took place at Bellevue Medical Center’s new full-service outpatient hematology/oncology clinic and infusion center, south of the medical center.
“It was all so convenient,” says Clarke. “I would drop my girls off to school in the morning and go to my infusion treatments up the street. Then when I was done, I’d go pick them up from school. My husband and I talked about it and we wanted it to be ‘life as usual’ as much as possible for our girls and we have been able to achieve that.”
The treatment itself wasn’t nearly as bad as the picture Clarke had painted. All went as well as possible for Clarke’s single mastectomy. But what Clarke feared even more was the chemotherapy regimen. “When I went in to see my oncologist, Dr. Beth Reed, she set me straight right away,” explains Clarke. “When I thought of chemo patients, I saw someone sick, frail and dying. I was painting the wrong picture. Dr. Reed told me it wasn’t that way at all. She helped change my perception of what a cancer patient looks like and set the right expectations for me, which was very relieving.”
Dr. Reed is one of the region’s leading experts on breast cancer and is a professor of Internal Medicine at the University of Nebraska Medical Center (UNMC).
Clarke says she has experienced some fatigue and achiness. However, for the most part she has felt pretty well and has been able to keep up with much of her normal activities. “I’ve surprised my friends and coworkers because I look well and feel well,” she says. Her job also was very flexible and allowed her to do most of her work from home during treatment.
Clarke works at the AAA Center for Pregnancy Counseling as director of Relationship Education where she teaches students about abstinence and healthy relationships.
“I’m a busy, busy person,” says Clarke. “If anything, it’s made me slow down a bit and reset my priorities.”
Clarke says she and her husband made the best of her day-long chemotherapy treatments at Bellevue’s infusion center, which features eight private, comfortable rooms. “My husband attended all of my treatments with me and we would use that time to visit, watch TV, read, write, nap and just enjoy some quiet time together,” she says. “It was really nice having that privacy.”
In partnership with The Nebraska Medical Center, Bellevue Medical Center’s new full-service outpatient hematology/oncology clinic and infusion center opened last fall to better serve the residents of Bellevue. “This has been a very convenient service for our patients,” says Alissa Marr, MD, hematologist/oncologist and medical director of Oncology Services at Bellevue Medical Center. “We get patients from Bellevue, the surrounding area as well as Iowa and rural Nebraska. The location is easier for them to get to and the smaller environment is less intimidating and overwhelming for them.”
“We felt a strong need to provide these services closer to home and in their own community,” says Theresa Franco, executive director of the Cancer Care Service Line at The Nebraska Medical Center. “Easy access and convenience are critical issues for cancer patients who may need multiple treatments and careful monitoring of their condition. These services make their care more convenient and an easier commute.”
The majority of general oncology patients at Bellevue Medical Center are seen on the Bellevue campus by oncology physicians from the UNMC Cancer Care Service Line. Patients have access to a team of experienced cancer specialists including medical oncologists who specialize in different types of cancer, including breast, lung and melanomas and gastrointestinal. Other health-care specialists include surgical oncologists, nurse practitioners, case managers, nutritionists and social service workers who provide patients a full-service, multidisciplinary approach to their care. Radiology services and laboratory support are also available at Bellevue.
“Through our partnership with The Nebraska Medical Center, our patients are getting many of the benefits of receiving care from the premiere cancer program in the region whenever possible but in their own neighborhood,” says Julie Vose, MD, chief of Oncology/Hematology at UNMC. “Higher risk patients, or those using experimental treatments, are seen by our specialists at The Nebraska Medical Center campus.”
The Nebraska Medical Center has a history of providing state-of-the-art cancer services and is recognized nationally and internationally for its cancer care and cutting-edge cancer treatments. The UNMC Eppley Cancer Center is one of only 60 National Cancer Institute (NCI)-designated cancer centers in the United States. NCI-designated cancer centers are recognized for their scientific excellence and commitment to cancer treatment and research that focuses on the development of more effective approaches to cancer prevention, diagnosis and therapy.
Bellevue patients also have the opportunity to participate in the same clinical trials that are available at The Nebraska Medical Center, giving patient access to the newest and most advanced cancer treatments available.
Preventive screenings and early detection services are available to Bellevue residents, as well as educational programs and a multidisciplinary Cancer Survivorship Clinic. The Survivorship Clinic is designed to help patients deal with the physical and emotional challenges of fighting cancers as well as the long-term side effects and learning how to return to a normal life again.
Patients are seen by a multidisciplinary group of clinicians that includes Deb Darrington, MD, internal medicine specialist at The Nebraska Medical Center and director of the program; a social worker; physical therapist; RN case manager; and nutritionist who perform an assessment and develop a “survivorship care plan” based on the patient’s special medical, physical and nutritional needs. This plan serves as patients’ long-term care plan to share with their primary care physician and addresses long-term medical issues like diabetes, heart disease, blood cholesterol and bone mass.
“Our goal is to aid in the transition after treatment — to provide support and serve as a point of care before patients return to their primary care doctor,” says Dr. Darrington. “We are there to listen, to develop a plan to meet their unique needs and communicate these needs to their primary care doctor or provide primary care needs for patients who don’t have a physician.”
“The clinic and infusion center is a collaboration with the primary care doctors of Bellevue Medical Center, and we will continue to develop our cancer program offerings based on their recommendations and the needs of patients in the community,” says Franco.
Clarke says the hospital and staff has served her well during a very difficult time in her life. “Dr. Reed was wonderful,” says Clarke. “She was very supportive, comforting and articulate. She made sure that I was well-informed and gave me choices so I could make the best decisions for me and my family. Everyone at the infusion center has been so nice and friendly. I couldn’t have asked for a better team of doctors and staff.”