by Nina Polien-Light
Photos by Benjamin Margalit/Margalit Studio
It is news that no one wants to hear.
“While I was participating in a bodybuilding competition, I found a golf ball-sized lump in my right groin,” recalls April Ockington, 44. “I thought it was from lifting heavy weights, but my husband wanted me to get it checked out. Turns out it was cancerous and needed to be removed. I went through 18 sessions of radiation.”
Joseph Rini, 54, has battled two types of cancer. What was originally thought to be a pulled muscle was testicular cancer. Several years later, while the small business owner was set to drive a truck from California back to Ohio, back and shoulder pain led him to believe he was having a gall bladder attack. He was stunned to learn it was lung cancer.
“I was in the hospital’s intensive care unit in an induced coma for 56 days,” he says.
“Then I underwent chemotherapy eight hours a day, five days a week for seven weeks. Some days, I also had eight hours of blood transfusions, so I was putting in 16-hour days.”
David Brussee, 58, suffers from a genetic form of leukemia, a chronic condition requiring ongoing monitoring and periodic rounds of chemotherapy. Five years ago, he also survived laryngeal cancer, an unrelated malignancy requiring radiation treatments.
April, Joseph and David have endured a full spectrum of physical, emotional and spiritual reactions to their illnesses. Today, however, they are all smiles as they discuss how Lake Health/University Hospitals Seidman Cancer Center helped—and continues to help—them through a journey they never expected to take.
“In some ways, the medical treatment is the least of it—although that is excellent,” David says. “Everyone here meets the human side of our needs. The level of compassion is tremendous. I got hugs at every visit and treatment. Staff and volunteers give their all to get you back to normal as soon as possible.”
Joseph nods. “There are always warm hugs and warm blankets,” he adds.
That is how it should be, says Julie Moran, Executive Director of the comprehensive community cancer center, which has been serving adult cancer patients since 1997.
“Cancer is distressing. People have to juggle work, children, life, finances and illness,” she says. “That’s why we care for the whole person. Our staff and volunteers are like a family and we treat patients like they’re part of that family.”
The team approach to cancer management includes expert medical care, treatments in a state-of-the-art facility, access to University Hospital Seidman Cancer Center clinical trials at the Mentor facility, spiritual and emotional guidance, nutritional advice, massages, financial counseling, support groups and private wig and scarf consultations for patients with hair loss incurred from chemotherapy or radiation.
“We have an onsite social worker who meets with every new patient, assesses his or her stresses, and then pulls in whatever resources are needed—rides to appointments, money from patient assistance foundations,” Julie says.
Lake Health University Hospitals Seidman Cancer Center is accredited by the American College of Radiology and was the second in the state of Ohio to be certified by the Quality Oncology Practice Initiative, an affiliate of the American Society of Clinical Oncology.
Patients appreciate the convenient location, intimate atmosphere, appointments on short notice, short waiting times, and free parking.
“I didn’t want to travel far and I didn’t want my kids to travel far,” Joseph says. “If I have to spend hours a day in treatment, I’d rather do it here than in the city. I could look outside and see bird feeders, ducks and squirrels. And because of their partnership with Lake Health, I could walk down the hall for my scan instead of driving to another facility.”
David appreciates that the staff knows everyone’s name.
“They’re willing to take your calls if you have concerns,” he adds. “My nurse, Connie, says, ‘I’ll talk to the doctor and get back to you.’ And she always does.”
Patients come first, concurs Dr. Joel Saltzman, Director of Medical Oncology.
“This is a community cancer center,” he emphasizes. “Many patients live close by and look to it as a second home while they’re going through treatment. Patients get a small town feel versus a big city factory feel.”
The center is a Joint Venture with Lake Health and the University Hospitals Seidman Cancer Center. Although the center offers most treatments and many clinical trials, doctors can refer patients to studies or treatments at UH, when relevant.
“If one of our patients is admitted to LakeWest or Tri Point hospitals, we make the effort to see them there,” Dr. Saltzman says. “We offer a unique continuity of care in an age when many primary physicians don’t see patients in the hospital. It’s rewarding for us as providers as well as for our patients.”
Dr. Fredrick Barton, Director of Radiation, says onsite state-of-the-art radiation therapies include intensity modulated radiation therapy, brachytherapy, image-guided radiation therapy and three-dimensional conformal radiation therapy.
“We are a fully Accredited American College of Radiology facility,” he assures. “This attests to our expertise, recordkeeping and integrated approach to oncology treatment.”
For April, who recently learned of two malignant tumors requiring additional radiation, certification and accreditation only speak to part of the center’s strength.
“The staff is awesome,” she says, smiling. “What I have isn’t curable, but it’s not detrimental as long as I keep my appointments. I couldn’t get this care anywhere else.”
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Fundraising efforts throughout the year help LH/UH Seidman Cancer Center continue to carry out our mission to provide world-class cancer care and oncology services to residents within driving distance of Mentor and Lake County.