“The opportunity for mum to get her chemo treatments here is a godsend,” says Julie Olson of the care her mother receives at the Outpatient Infusion Center at Ridges Cancer Clinic.
Her mother, Queenie Hunter, was one of the center’s first patients when it opened in November 2012. Queenie, 83, lives with Julie in Apple Valley, about 10 minutes away. The palliative chemotherapy she is receiving for stage IV cancer at the infusion center has improved the quality of her life – and Julie’s life, as well.
Receiving care closer to home has made a significant difference in their lives, saving them time and energy, and alleviating stress. It has trimmed at least 60 miles from their commute to the Masonic Cancer Clinic at University of Minnesota Medical Center, Fairview in Minneapolis where Queenie’s care began.
“We love the staff at the Masonic Cancer Clinic,” Julie acknowledges. “Everyone, from the front desk staff to the nurses and doctors, has been excellent. But, it was quite a challenge getting back and forth for treatments.
Coordinated care, diagnosis and treatment
Several months after emigrating from her native England, Queenie suffered from an upset stomach and her skin became jaundiced. After a trip to the emergency room, she was referred to Masonic Cancer Clinic.
She was able to make appointments quickly and efficiently, seeing Ed Greeno, MD, medical oncologist specializing in management of gastrointestinal malignancies, and Eric Jensen, MD, surgical oncologist specializing in surgical therapy of pancreatic and liver tumors. Within a few days of her referral a complex series of tests showed she had incurable cholangiocarcinoma, a cancer of the ducts that carry bile away from the liver to the small intestine. They recommended Queenie have palliative chemotherapy instead of surgery.
“Unfortunately, the extent of Ms. Hunter’s cancer was such that we couldn’t surgically remove it—the curative therapy for this type of cancer. I was able to offer her relatively easy chemotherapy that would likely prolong her life and, just as importantly, help her maintain the quality of her life,” said Dr. Greeno.
Although the first line chemotherapy went well, the trips to the University campus were a burden on Julie and Queenie, with weekly, 90-minute chemotherapy treatments for six weeks, followed by a CT scan and a physician visit.
When Queenie decided to begin a second line of chemotherapy because the first was no longer working, Julie asked if there was a closer location for treatment.
Dr. Greeno told them about the new infusion center opening at Ridges.
“The change has meant the world to us,” Julie affirms. “It’s much easier to fit her appointments into my work schedule. And, it is easier for our friends and family to help out when we need it. Karen Solem, procedure scheduler, does an excellent job coordinating our appointments, she knows our preferences.”
Christine Luedtke, RN at the Outpatient Infusion Center says she hears frequently from patients and family members that being closer to home for chemotherapy is a benefit.
Improving quality of life
Queenie’s current chemotherapy seems to be working well. She feels quite good, and looks relaxed and healthy. In fact, things are going so well, that Julie and Queenie went on a Caribbean cruise this spring.
Dr. Greeno comments, “People often assume chemotherapy is going to be a terrible burden, but in many circumstances we have options that involve little toxicity. When the goal is maintaining quality of life we work very hard to minimize the disruption to a person’s life—not only the side effects of therapy, but the emotional impact of the cancer and the logistical problems, too.”
“We know this is not a cure,” Julie says. “But, I know she wouldn’t be here, if it wasn’t for the care she’s received. I am so happy that, through this treatment, she can have a good quality of life, and we can spend time together doing the things we like.”
“We miss seeing everyone at the University. They’re all so genuinely caring and professional,” Queenie admits. “Dr. Greeno is wonderful, and Tanya Watson, too. The nurses are all lovely. But, it so nice to come here and they take very good care of me.”
Providing an excellent patient experience and comprehensive cancer care across the region are primary focuses for UMPhysicians Cancer Care at Fairview. “Delivering exceptional cancer care closer to where our patients live or work, whether it be at the University or in the community, is an important goal to better serve our patients,” says Marie Brown, MHA, Oncology Service Line Executive. “Queenie’s story is a great example of fulfilling our mission.”