JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — Ginger Johnson knows the toll cancer can take, and the complications of getting treated in a remote city.
One year after she lost her husband, former legislator Rick Urion, to colon cancer, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. And just like everyone in Juneau diagnosed with the disease, she had to travel elsewhere for treatment. She chose to see a doctor in Anchorage.
But Southeast Alaska residents battling cancer no longer must endure the stress of travel to be treated. The Southeast Radiation Oncology Center opened its doors to the public at a ribbon-cutting ceremony in its brand new, $7 million facility located near Bartlett Regional Hospital on Salmon Creek Lane.
"As a person who's been through two bouts of cancer, it will make such a difference for people to be able to receive treatment at home," Johnson said.
The center's open house event boasted a crowd, as the staff mingled with residents, some of whom had fought cancer, as well as local politicians.
Mayor Merrill Sanford helped the center's full-time doctor, Eugene Huang, cut the ribbon in the ceremony. BRH Interim CEO Jeff Egbert welcomed the center's staff into the community, and said he looks forward to the hospital forming a working relationship with the treatment center.
"It is very important to have these services close to home," he said. "(Cancer treatments are) frequent; they are not one-time occurrences."
The center also presented a $5,000 donation to Cancer Connection, a local patient advocacy organization.
After the ceremony, physicist Mark Winslow demonstrated the center's linear accelerator, an Elekta Synergy, used to apply radiation therapy. Winslow will travel between Juneau's center and another in Soldotna, spokeswoman Denise Gerlach said.
The center has the capacity to serve 35 to 40 patients per day. Huang intends to see patients within 24 hours from the time they're referred, he said last month.
The doctor recently moved from Cleveland with his wife and two small children to lead the center's staff of four full-time Juneau residents. He was trained at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center.
Huang said he was excited to get the center open and see people at the open house after working hard to put the finishing touches on the place.
"The past week and a half has been so busy," he said.
Information from: Juneau (Alaska) Empire, http://www.juneauempire.com