After Claudia Burton’s mother died of ovarian cancer, always on the back of her mind was the possibility she too might have to confront it one day. That didn’t make it easier when the day came.
“I assumed it was a death sentence,” says Burton, who was 73 when she was diagnosed with stage III ovarian cancer. She underwent chemotherapy in Salem, followed by surgery in Portland. Then she had more chemotherapy treatment back in Salem — including intraperitoneal therapy, in which anti-cancer drugs are injected directly into the space between the muscles and organs in a patient’s abdomen.
Now, almost four years after Burton’s last treatment, the cancer remains in remission. Looking back, the former law professor at Willamette University in Salem says it was critically important that she could have her chemotherapy and pre- and post-surgery appointments near her home in Salem, rather than having to travel to Portland. “In fact, I don’t know that I would have done the chemo if the resources had not been available in Salem,” she says.
Burton’s coordinated care was made possible by a carefully developed collaboration between the OHSU Knight Cancer Institute and health care partners in other parts of the state. The aim is to give patients in communities beyond the Portland metropolitan area access to state-of-the-art gynecologic cancer care. Knight Cancer specialists provide genetic testing, surgeries, follow-up care and a range of other services, both at the Salem Cancer Institute in Salem and at the Asante Rogue Regional Medical Center in Medford.
“Being able to provide surgery and other treatment near a patient’s home is about much more than convenience,” says Tanja Pejovic, M.D., Ph.D., a gynecologic oncologist who has worked at Asante in Medford for at least four consecutive days each month for the past eight years. “It’s also about a patient’s emotional well-being during very trying times. They have their family there. They have their social support. They don’t want to go anywhere else.”
“Being able to provide surgery and other treatment near a patient’s home is about much more than convenience.”
Three other OHSU gynecologic oncologists routinely spend part of their week in Salem. And Melissa Moffitt, M.D., the OHSU surgeon who took care of Burton, sees patients at Salem Health’s Salem Cancer Institute two days per week. “My patients absolutely love being able to have the specialist services they need in their own community, rather than having to come to Portland to receive that care,” she says.
Spending time in Medford and Asante also allows Knight Cancer Institute gynecologic oncology specialists to develop relationships with cancer specialists in those communities, enabling them to collaborate more closely.
“It just makes things a lot smoother for the patients,” says Elizabeth Munro, M.D., another Knight Cancer Institute gynecologic oncologist who devotes part of her time seeing patients in Salem. “The open communication you have between physicians is better for patients, often leading to better outcomes. Plus, the physicians in the community love having us down there. It gives them security so they can lean on us for expertise.”
Of course, some gynecologic oncology procedures and surgeries are performed only in Portland, where hospitals and clinics have the more specialized technology and staffing required.
Koen De Geest, M.D., chair of the gynecologic oncology division at OHSU Knight Cancer Institute, says the outreach to other parts of the state fits within OHSU’s mission to provide individually tailored, compassionate care for its patients.
“We really want to reach out to Oregonians everywhere — not necessarily just where the largest concentrations of people are,” he says. “We want to not only provide clinical service but education. Giving patients access to genetic testing, early detection and prevention measures creates better cancer care for all Oregonians.”
A version of this article originally appeared in the OHSU Knight Cancer Institute’s 2016 Annual Report