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Seby B. Jones Regional Cancer Center Celebrates 20 Year Anniversary Serving Patients in High Country

Oct. 7, 2013. Seby B. Jones Regional Cancer Center (SBJCC), part of Appalachian Regional Healthcare System (ARHC), celebrates its 20th anniversary serving cancer patients in the High Country.

The Cancer Center uses a multidisciplinary approach in the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of cancers. Through advanced technology and highly trained staff, the Center offers exceptional diagnosticc and treatment procedures that include radiation, chemotherapy, biotherapy, immunotherapy, prostate brachytherapy and hormonal treatments. Since opening its doors in 1993, the Cancer Center has diagnosed and treated 8,316 cancer patients. 

914The Cancer Center has a rich history, beginning in the late 1980s, when a marketing study conducted by Watauga Medical Center revealed that 25 percent of High Country residents would not feel comfortable leaving the mountain area for care and treatment if faced with cancer. Richard Sparks, then President of Watauga Medical Center, along with his Board of Trustees, believed this feedback offered an opportunity to address a community cancer care need. 

“We began gathering data to analyze and assess if it would be possible to support a quality cancer center in the High Country,” said Sparks. “Early on it became apparent that we wpould have the support of the community.”

Sparks partnered with the former Mayor of Raleigh and High Country enthusiast Seby B. Jones, to begin the establishment of a cancer center in Boone. In 1992, Jones provided the lead gift to establish and develop a comprehensive cancer treatment program on the campus of Watauga Medical Center. Jones, who loved the mountains and its people, felt strongly that residents should have access to quality care near home. On June 13, 1993, the cancer center was named Seby B. Jones Regional Cancer Center in his honor. 

Good intentions led to good support when Sparks made a cold call for help in 1992 to Dr. Herman Godwin, then medical director of the Blumenthal Cancer Center at Carolinas Medical Center (today it is named the Levine Cancer Institute). Godwin agreed to travel to Boone on a cold evening in November that same year to survey the need and determine how he could help get the Cencer Center up and running.

“After my visit, Richard and I had a hand shake agreement that I would serve as an outreach medical oncologist once a week in Boone at the Cancer Center,” said Godwin with a reminiscing smile. 

“On Jan. 14, 1993, I began driving up from Charlotte once a week to see patients. I saw four that first day.”

Over the course of the next seven years, Dr. Godwin continued to commute once a week to the High Country to care for patients. Gradually, the decision to stay on the mountain for cancer treatment increased among the High Country residents, which led to the decision to hire a full-time Medical Oncologist, Dr. Flint Gray, who still practices at the Cancer Center today. 

Prior to 1993, there was no substantial cancer care available in the High Country. Today, the SBJCC is a modern facility housing medical oncology, radiation oncology and a newly developed cancer resource center.

“We came from very humble beginnings,” said Godwin. “In 1993, we opened our doors with the capacity to evaluate and treat patients with chemotherapy infusions once a week and to provide radiation treatments five days a week.”

Fortunately, as the number of cancer patients increased, so did the financial commitment of the community to the Cancer Center. In 1997, a new million-dollar valunt, with 24-inch concrete walls, was added to accommodate a new state-of-the-art linear accelerator. 

Sandi Cassidy, Director of Oncology Services said, “The addition of the new linear accelerator took the Cancer Center from the early 90’s in technology into the 21st century.”

The Cancer Center was accredited in 1997 as a Community Cancer Program by the Commission on Cancer under the guidance of the American College of Surgeons. To maintain the accreditation, the Center adheres to strict regulations and requirements regarding program management, clinical services, continuum of care, patient outcomes and quality of data. Simply translated, the accreditation sets Seby B. Jones Regional Cancer Center on a level in quality of care with other accredited cancer centers throughout our country.

In 2003, the Center expanded and added a medical oncology unit that included office space, exam rooms and a state of the art infusion center. The infusion center, equipped with 10 chairs and two beds, provides a comfortable environment for patients to rest and receive treatment. Prior to this addition, the Center had only a small number of infusion chairs.

The Cancer Center added Intensity Modulated Radiation Therapy (IMRT) in 2008. This unique form of treatment minimizes the risk of radiation damage to healthy tissues by precisely targeting cancerous cells and tissue. The addition of IMRT was among the first of its kind in North Carolina.

“As research and technology advance, many more people are surviving their battle with cancer,” said Cassidy. “We are working diligently to support the patient and his/her family from diagnosis to survivorship.”

To provide more emphasis on cancer survivorship care plans, SBJCC, in collaboration with the University of North Carolina Lineberger Cancer Center, established a Nurse Navigator program and appointed Paul Young, RN to the position.  Young assists patients and their families from diagnosis to survivorship by providing a guiding hand of support through the entire process.

“If one informs an individual patient that, ‘you have cancer,’ it is enough to make the world literally change for that person,” said Godwin. “At that point, additional information often falls on deaf ears due to the devastating news. Cancer is a complex and intrusive enemy, and it is helpful to have someone like Paul who is able to assist and provide continuous support, not only for the patient, but for the family as well.”  

The Cancer Resource Alliance (CRA), an outreach arm of the Cancer Center, was established in 2006 to empower cancer survivors and their loved ones to be active partners in the healing journey. The CRA consists of cancer survivors, community members, Appalachian State University’s Colleges Against Cancer Club, and ARHS healthcare professionals.

The CRA is completely supported by donations.Tax-deductible gifts help ensure that cancer patients and survivors have access to a wide range of enriching and supportive programs and services to facilitate healing. Numerous fundraisers are held throughout the year to help purchase wigs, prosthetic devices, educational materials, and iPads for patients to use while receiving treatment at the infusion center. Funds also help with outreach programs, support groups, the Cancer Patient Emergency Fund and the THRIVE Oncology track at the Paul H. Broyhill Wellness Center.

The Cancer Patient Emergency Fund provides financial assistance to aid many cancer patients and their families with expenses during treatment – gas for transportation, utility bills, medications and grocery expenses. The fund, originally started and maintained by the Park Foundation, has donated over $328,000 since its inception in 2007.

Seby B. Jones Regional Cancer Center’s partnership with the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Lineberger Cancer Center has allowed for clinical trials, nurse navigation and peer review sessions, via the Telehealth Medicine Education Program, to be shared with the High Country.

“Our physicians now have consulting access to some of the finest doctors in the state of North Carolina through the UNC alliance,” said Cassidy. “Thanks to the Telehealth program, our cases can be discussed and reviewed in Chapel Hill through virtual real time technology, remotely from Boone.”

Cassidy, a big proponent of preventative screenings, predicts a future increase in the discovery of early stage cancer cases through a variety of upcoming and strategically planned free cancer screenings. These screenings will be hosted in conjunction with the Community Outreach Department of ARHS and with the support and oversight of the CRA.

The Cancer Center also has plans to add a High Dose Radiation (HDR) unit in 2015, which will be used, in some specific cases, in place of the linear accelerator. HDR is unique in that it uses a concentrated high dose of radiation during treatment that in turn can greatly reduces the number of treatment days necessary for patients.

“In the future, I believe we will see increasing levels of success in prevention, early diagnosis, and treatment,” said Godwin. “It has been a genuine honor and pleasure for me to be able to serve our High Country community and its patients for almost 20 years.”

If you’d like more information about the CRA program, volunteering or making a donation, contact Angie Shoemake, MSW, at (828) 262-9170 or send an email to ashoemake@apprhs.org.

For more information about the Seby B. Jones Regional Cancer Center please call 828-262-4332 or visit www.apprhs.org/cancer-center.

For more information about Appalachian Regional Healthcare System, visit www.apprhs.org.