Celebrating Life-Saving Services on National Cancer Survivors Day

No matter what current events or public health topics may be pressing, one issue that millions of Americans continue to contend with is cancer. With this Sunday, June 7 observed as National Cancer Survivors Day, one positive side of experiencing cancer is the time we live—and fight—in. “Our cancer patients are living longer,” says Laura Adams, Penn Highlands Healthcare service line director of radiology / oncology. Adams attributes this development to clinical research, treatment plans, and the cancer center’s focus. “At Penn Highlands, we have a solid, patient-centered group of providers,” she says. Among those professionals are Dr. Hazem Elkassas, medical director of oncology / hematology, Dr. Carmine Marchioli, Dr. Maofu Fu in Clearfield, who has gotten “very active with the Clearfield community,” and Dr. Jennifer Colvin who recently joined Penn Highlands and is known for “great bedside manner,” Adams says. “We treat the whole patient—not only the medical diagnosis, but the physical, emotional, and financial difficulties that come with battling cancer.”

This comprehensive approach and the cancer team’s commitment to a patient during (and even after) treatment can make a big difference in that patient’s outcome. “Really, we’re here for you,” Adams says, adding that many patients “become family” with their care team.

That means from the moment of diagnosis, the Penn Highlands cancer team becomes an important source of answers for patients—one of the first of these being how close to home they can access high-quality treatment. Fortunately, Adams says, “Patients don’t have to travel.” In addition to the award-winning cancer care that remains available at Penn Highlands Hahne Cancer Center in DuBois and Nathaniel D. Yingling Cancer Center at Penn Highlands Clearfield, satellite sites exist in Brookville, Ridgway and, opening this July, at the St. Marys Community Medical Building. For the patient who needs regular, even daily treatments, these satellite sites deliver assuredness. “That’s important to our survivors,” Adams explains. “A lot can be done at our local cancer centers.”

The cancer team at Penn Highlands believes this so strongly that they offer a transport service for patients who experience barriers to making the trips for treatment. “Once they’re an established patient at the center and they’re compliant with their appointments, we can set them up for transportation services.” Adams says Penn Highlands covers the cost of fuel and maintenance for their fleet of seven vans.

In the circumstance when a patient needs to see a subspecialist, the oncology team at Penn Highlands can partner with cancer specialists at more metropolitan hospitals. “Our oncologists work very collaboratively with the university cancer research centers,” Adams says. “It’s about professional relationships. There are times when Hahne oncologists may refer a patient to these research centers, then the subspecialist there will set up the plan and ask us to administer the units each week. Oncologists at other places can send patients back here for maintenance chemotherapy.”

For anyone who feels uncertain about obtaining cancer care in the time of COVID-19, Adams offers urgent advice. “We encourage all survivors and also patients going through active treatments not to stop preventative care.” As precautions to COVID-19, she says the team at Penn Highlands Hahne all wear OR scrubs, disrobe into street clothes anytime they exit the facility, strictly maintain six feet of social distancing, and had implemented temperature checks before it was a requirement.

Adams says a similar rule applies to everyone, as preventative care saves lives. “Yearly physicals are so important to maintain health and detect anything new.” That’s also true for cancer screenings, like colonoscopies and mammograms. With the addition of breast radiologist Dr. Suzanne Iorfido to Penn Highlands, in the past three years the diagnosis of early-stage breast cancer has tripled. “Dr. Iorfido has done a fabulous job,” Adams says. “Breast cancer is very curable and treatable if it’s caught early. We don’t want women to stop getting mammograms.”

Learn more about cancer care in North Central Pennsylvania at www.phhealthcare.orgcancercare.