Cancer patients will soon begin receiving treatment at the spacious $39.7 million Spencer Cancer Center, on which construction wrapped May 15.
The center will open to patients June 17 and has been designed to bring optimum care through upgraded technologies, increased patient convenience and an aesthetically pleasing atmosphere with calming artwork and floor-to-ceiling windows that bring in sunlight.
"It's a beautiful building," said Brandon Johnson, medical oncologist at East Alabama Medical Center. "People talk about, 'Gosh, it's a beautiful cancer center. Why do you need (it)? Cancer is supposed to be gloom and doom. It's miserable and shouldn't be a pleasant experience,' but if you follow us around some time you'll actually see that our patients are probably the most hopeful type patients."
And many will come to the center for treatment every day, he added.
"They come here a lot. Radiation (treatment) is once a day; it's almost like a second job," he said. "It's something they have to do to live, so to have a place like this that's comfortable for them is going to be outstanding."
Members of the public who wish to see the building can do so on Tuesday, when EAMC will host an open house from 5 to 7 p.m. The community can go on a self-guided tour at that time and talk with the hospital's oncologists and staff members.
The roughly 60,000 square-foot building is about four times larger than the existing EAMC cancer center, which treats 784 patients with chemotherapy each month and up to 50 with radiation treatment each day. With added infusion therapy chairs and exam rooms, the number of patients that can be treated will increase.
EAMC is also working to recruit a second radiation oncologist and will add a fourth medical oncologist in 2020.
"Unfortunately, our cancer patients have really increased over the past five to seven years since the area's grown, and we've simply outgrown our old cancer center," said John Cabelka, radiation oncologist.
Johnson added that staff are also seeing more types of cancers today than when he was in training about 10 years ago.
"We are seeing more cancers," he said. "I'm treating diseases that we simply didn't treat back then, so we're seeing new diseases."
With all that in mind, the facility's design gives it room to grow. For example, conference rooms on the first floor were built to certain specifications so they could be outfitted with treatment machines in the future.
While the center is certainly spacious, the design and flow of the building were created with the patient in mind. For those receiving daily radiology treatment, a back entrance and parking lot is designed to lead them straight into the radiology wing. Patients can easily slip in and out for appointments without having to use the front entrance.
For those prescribed oral chemotherapy treatments — which is becoming more frequent, Johnson said — a pharmacy near the main entrance will dispense orders and educate patients upon pick-up about their medications — a more streamlined process than that which currently exists.
"These aren’t drugs that I write on a prescription and you go to a Walgreens or CVS and fill it," Johnson said. "These are specialty drugs that have to be shipped in, signed for and patients have to have education."
For women who have had a mastectomy, a boutique near the front entrance will staff certified fitters to help with padded undergarments. Dressing rooms will showcase wigs for purchase for cancer patients with hair loss, and the boutique will offer products for purchase that cancer patients may need during treatment.
The whole idea is to provide a facility that meets the patient's needs at one location. Cabelka said the center will also prevent local cancer patients from having to travel for treatment.
"We're at the level of any academic center, so you don't have to go to UAB or Emory," he said. "We have everything right here ... There's no need to go anywhere else."
The new center also features upgraded technologies. In addition to its two linear accelerators, which treat cancer with image-guided radiotherapy, the center will have a High-Dose Radiation machine and a PET/CT machine.
"We’ve upgraded a number of things, especially software, from the diagnostics side to the therapy side," Cabelka said. "We have a PET/CT (machine) here now, and we’ll be able to do our radiation therapy planning with the patients in the treatment position.
"We can give radioactive injections of an isotope that can seek out cells that are growing more rapidly than other cells — for example, where cancer is — and we can use that. We can import it on a computer screen after we scan the patient."
Staff would then target that area of cells during treatment.
"That's really allowed us to, as far as the radiation side goes, pinpoint cancers better, allows us to have smaller margins, less side effects, deliver higher total dosage ( and have) better cure rates," Cabelka said.
The Spencer Cancer Center is located at 2501 Village Professional Drive in Opelika.