For the last eight years, Sedro-Woolley’s PeaceHealth United General and Bellingham’s PeaceHealth St. Joseph medical centers have collaborated closely to provide compassionate, comprehensive and technologically advanced care to cancer patients in Skagit, Whatcom, Island, and San Juan Counties.
In staying on top of treatment innovations, the cancer centers at both hospitals are welcoming both new doctors and state-of-the-art technology to their repertoire of cancer-fighting tools. Both feature comprehensive chemotherapy and radiation treatments, as well as clinical trials access. They also share staff, including an expert team of radiation and medical oncologists, nurses, therapists and a dosimetrist. A daily morning conference call between the Sedro-Woolley and Bellingham providers helps everyone be on the same page, learning about new patients, progress of existing treatment plans, and any other relevant information.
On the personnel side, three new radiation oncologists have joined the PeaceHealth Northwest Network Oncology team, and all have extensive training and expertise in their fields of focus.
Dr. Lisa Hazard joins PeaceHealth with experience in treating all types of cancers using state-of-the-art radiation therapies, and has undertaken significant academic research in gastrointestinal and brain tumors, among other subjects. Dr. Hazard is the primary radiation oncologist serving patients at PeaceHealth United General.
Dr. Victor J. Gonzalez will also provide care at PeaceHealth United General. After time as an associate professor at the University of Arizona Cancer Center, Dr. Gonzalez brings particular expertise in breast, lymphoma, and hepatobiliary (liver, gallbladder, bile duct) cancers.
Dr. Andrea L. Arnett, who completed her residency at the Mayo Clinic, joins the PeaceHealth St. Joseph team with an emphasis on treating gastrointestinal, gynecological, and nervous system cancers, including brain tumors.
“We’re delighted to have them,” says Dr. Christine Cha, system medical director for cancer services at PeaceHealth. “They’re moving with their families, and all three have ties to the Pacific Northwest.”
The new trio joins the existing stability of a cancer-fighting team that includes four medical oncologists, including Dr. Scott M. LeTellier, who sees patients at PeaceHealth United General. Dr. LeTellier joined the PeaceHealth Northwest Network oncology team in 2018; his special interests include bladder cancer, renal cell carcinoma, prostate cancer, colon cancer, lung cancer, breast cancer and malignant hematology
Other key members of the cancer care team include advance practice providers, social workers, nurse navigators, and others who strive to provide cancer care and support on a physical, spiritual, logistical, and financial level.
On the technology side, the PeaceHealth St. Joseph Cancer Center recently saw installation of a new linear accelerator, its second such device. These machines, which cost between $2 to $4 million apiece, provide state-of-the-art radiation oncology treatment. Utilizing particle physics, a linear accelerator emits radiation with carefully focused beams of energy that spare the healthy tissue surrounding tumors.
The new machine, installed in March, utilizes a HyperArc attachment specializing in brain cancer treatment. The HyperArc provides precision, high-dose radiation in only a handful of non-invasive sessions.
“That has been found to be very effective,” Cha says. “This is the first time this technology’s being offered to Whatcom and Skagit counties.”
The centers are also adding genetic counseling services via telemedicine. Thanks to a partnership with the non-profit Genetic Support Foundation, medical oncologists will soon be able to provide cancer patients with genetic testing.
This testing has several uses, including helping to identify if a patient’s family is at-risk for developing the same cancer, says Barbara Nicholson-Sambuceto, director of cancer services for PeaceHealth’s Northwest network. The testing is done with saliva-based test kits sent directly to a patient’s home. Once completed, the tests are sent back to the testing company, which sends results to providers who do consultations with patients over Zoom.
Additional PeaceHealth cancer care supportservices at PeaceHealth United General include palliative care for those suffering with long-term effects of cancer and treatment, as well as financial assistance for those needing to address the funding of often-expensive care. The PeaceHealth St. Joseph Cancer Center also offers yoga, support groups, cancer rehabilitation and nutrition services.
In all, PeaceHealth’s cancer centers in Bellingham and Sedro-Woolley are able to collaborate to to offer patients the level of robust, integrated, state-of-the-art cancer treatment often found in bigger cities like Seattle or Portland, but without the stress and headache of having to travel there.
“Being able to get cancer care close to home is really important,” says Nicholson-Sambuceto. “Cancer care takes a lot out of people physically, of course, but emotionally and spiritually, as well. If people can be near to their social networks, it helps them quite a bit.”
While dealing with cancer is never truly easy, PeaceHealth is focused on making the experience and treatment as uncomplicated, low-stress and effective as possible.
“Our emphasis is on providing truly comprehensive cancer care in the communities we serve,” Cha says. “We want patients to feel well taken care of.”