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In Sickness and In Health

Cancer treatment is a powerful experience. Following diagnosis, patients climb the steep learning curve of cancer and its treatment. Which treatment is best for my cancer and for me? Chemotherapy? Radiation Therapy? Both? The treatment planning begins. Anxiety is common, “have I picked the right medical team?” Will the treatment we’ve decided on work? Will I do well?

Caring for our patients is an honor and a challenge because every patient’s journey is different. Emotions, side effects, energy levels, the strength of the patient’s at-home care team, every situation is different. Recognizing that, we have the staff of SSM Health’s Cancer Care in place to help us help you. Like mental health providers, nutritionists, and palliative care specialists. Above all, our teams at Turville Bay Radiation Oncology Center are such caring individuals they often spot issues before the patient is fully aware.

Our physicians, nurses, and therapists are here to help before, during and after treatment, using extensive training and expertise to help patients through the experience. Sometimes there are rough spots and as a community we hit one of those in March of this year with Covid19. As a cancer community we strive to carefully keep every patient healthy as treatment proceeds. A simple cold can derail treatment for a bit. With Covid19, our community found a new danger to cancer patients. We quickly put stringent screening protocols in place to protect patients, and the staff that cares for them, each day. Our patients often tell us that they feel confident and cared for while in treatment with us and that’s the highest compliment.

We are here for our patients through sickness and health in the parlance of wedding vows around the world. And we’re grateful to our greater community for adhering to safety guidelines even when it seems unlikely to matter to a healthy individual. Wearing a mask, practicing social distancing, and monitoring your own health carefully each day matters deeply to the cancer patient that lives down your street. The path you cross may affect all of us.

Cancer Care Won’t Wait

The Covid19 crisis has changed all of us. But even as the virus seems to rule our lives, patients are diagnosed with cancer each day. New cancers and metastatic cancers. Because every patient deserves our best, cancer care continues. Extensive treatment planning, radiation therapy, palliative care, and stereotactic radiosurgery. Some things have changed. Here at Turville Bay Radiation Oncology Center we have added strict elements to the daily screening of every patient, caregiver and staff member that enters our doors. Before treatment can begin everyone is screened for the protection of our patients, our staff and all our families. As they say, we are in this together, and we protect each other with these measures.

As our annual Cancer Survivors & Thrivers Ice Cream Social slated for June is placed on hold, we look forward to celebrating how far we’ve come with everyone touched by cancer in June, 2021. And, we encourage a cocooning of self-care and positivity for every patient and give them permission to tune out the news and focus on their own recovery. With our partners in SSM Health Cancer Care we continue the fight. From their first symptoms, to diagnosis, through treatment, and a return to wellness, together we heal.

High Precision Tracks Tumors

When a cancer diagnosis calls for radiation therapy our highly trained staff delivers the treatment with innovative technology. A custom designed treatment plan for each patient provides us with a map. We visualize soft tissue, manage the motion with each breath the patient takes, and track the tumor. We deliver therapy directly to the tumor, precisely, all with the help of some pretty incredible technology. Onboard imaging, streamlined control, sub-millimeter accuracy. We deliver it the first day, and each day, as treatment progresses. As the tumor shrinks, we follow its subtle movements within the body and continue to treat it.

So, what happens to the patient with breast cancer, or prostate cancer, or one of the many cancers we treat? They arrive daily for treatment over a series of weeks, and we get to know them. They feel the confidence and the care our team delivers. We listen, support, and encourage them along with treat them for cancer. Many, if not most patients, recover from their cancer after treatment.

We treat those patients with complex cancers, and metastatic cancers. Technology allows us to deliver the treatment so precisely that we can relieve symptoms and control disease in specific spots where cancer has spread. We decrease pain, lower the risk of broken bones weakened by cancer, improve breathing from a blocked airway, or relieve pressure on a nerve that may be causing numbness or pain. Palliative care of this type improves quality of life giving the patient time and freedom to pursue their interests, their family time or work. It may continue over months, and even years, for those living with cancer.

Radiation therapy. We use it every day to heal.

Vaccinate Against Cancer

Cancers related to HPV, a very common virus, are on the rise affecting a younger population aged 25 to 50. The Center for Disease Control estimates 79 million American men and women are currently infected with HPV. In fact, it’s so common the CDC believes “nearly all of sexually active adults get the virus at some point in their lives.” 

The virus is transmitted by intimate skin to skin contact and, in most cases, goes away on its own without causing health problems. But in some cases, cancer of the mouth, throat, cervix and others can occur with about 34,800 new cases each year. Complicating the HPV problem is this: only one of the six cancers caused by HPV are screened regularly. Oral, throat, and anal cancers do not have the same standard (or routine) screening as cervical cancer. Screening occurs before symptoms have surfaced and it’s an important tool in fighting cancer. 

There’s a solution to this problem. It begins with a remarkably effective vaccine that actually blocks the virus and prevents cancer.* "This vaccine is the best way to protect our youth from developing cancers caused by HPV infection," says CDC Director Robert Redfield. 

Here’s how we prevent 6 cancers:

  1. Vaccinate everyone by the age of 11-12. In fact, evidence now shows there is some benefit to vaccinating adults until age 45.
  2. Pediatricians strongly recommend the vaccine for children, and parents need to opt in to prevent cancer.
  3. Catch-up HPV vaccination is recommended for all persons through age 26 years who are not adequately vaccinated.
  4. Develop a system to screen for HPV-related cancers. Currently the best screening for oral cancer comes from your dentist. Ask for a screening every year. But there are other cancers related to HPV infection and we need to screen for them as well.

On a personal level, take control of your health.

  1. Know the benefits of using condoms correctly and consistently. 
  2. Reduce the number of sexual partners, it lowers risk of infection. 
  3. Understand the role oral sex plays in the spread of HPV.
  4. And as with all cancer prevention, taking good care of your personal health can make a difference.

Though proven safe we have failed to protect our population through vaccination. The WI Comprehensive Cancer Control Program reports as of December 2019 less than half of Wisconsin teens are fully protected. We’re falling dramatically short of Wisconsin’s goal to vaccinate 80% of all boys and girls by the age of 13 with just 35-37% of all kids vaccinated. That’s not enough to protect the next generation from the 6 types of cancer we know are HPV-related.


Mindfulness in Cancer Care

The stress of a cancer diagnosis is evident to us at Turville Bay Radiation Oncology Center. This highly stressful event reveals itself in many ways including but not limited to distress, symptom burden, immune response, and mental health. Patients tell us they have trouble concentrating, trouble sleeping, feel irritable, suffer stomach upsets, and even bouts of panic. All this in addition to the symptoms their disease carries. The combination of symptoms can significantly lower quality of life during and after treatment. It is our goal as healthcare providers and physicians to increase quality of life during this stressful time. One tool that’s proven effective is the practice of mindfulness.

The definition of mindfulness is the practice of maintaining a nonjudgmental state of heightened or complete awareness. Finding meditation-based stress reduction by learning, then practicing, meditative skills with awareness of breath, healing imagery, and deep breathing. Mindfulness is a way to achieve a state of mind that is aware and in control. This approach, in turn, reduces stress, improves physical health, and allows harmony in life.

Our use of patient centered care within Turville Bay has brought us deep appreciation of the practice of mindfulness combined with social support. Unleashing the power of the cancer patient’s mind allows them to partner with us in their treatment and recovery. We know that social support during severe illness can make a difference in a patient’s ability to cope. We’ve found that some patient’s turn their focus inward, shutting out those around them as they struggle to learn about their cancer, their treatment options and make decisions alongside healthcare providers. It’s a steep learning curve when the mind is racing and exhaustion sets in.

Social support alone is helpful but when combined with mindfulness in programs such as Mindfulness-Based Cancer Recovery, or MBCR, it seems to enhance outcomes. “At SSM Health, the healing power of presence includes guided support groups and talk therapy for those in need during and after cancer treatment,” says Dr. Anthony Rinaldi, a clinical psychologist with SSM Health in Madison. “Mindfulness can often be a powerful tool.”

Turville Bay’s radiation oncologists work intensively with SSM Health’s medical oncologists, surgeons, infusion specialists, comprehensive genetics and mental health professionals. Together, our healthcare teams work to heal patients and to improve the patient experience and the outcome. 


Finding Joy

The holidays can take on special meaning to those fighting serious illness. Reuniting with family, quiet conversations, and savoring simple joys are the best part of the holidays, says one cancer survivor. Her advice to us during this holiday season is measured in common sense, spirituality, and the love of those around her.

This holiday season consider stepping back and reevaluating choices: big meals or small informal ones? Shopping for gifts or finding small personal ways to gift? Baking dozens of cookies for family and friends or baking a few for the joy of it? If it isn’t joyous, pass on it for now and don’t feel guilty for the choices you make. Instead enjoy feeling peaceful and grateful for the chance to choose.

Thousands of our patients have traveled this same path over the years. Many have shared that slowing the pace of the holidays was a great gift that they took along into recovery. It seems they felt closer to the true spirit of the holidays.

Palliative Care is Rising

Palliative care is increasing in acceptance throughout the country. Heart disease, kidney disease, dementia, and of course cancer treatment are serious illnesses where palliative care has proven its worth. Though difficult to access in some smaller communities, 72% of hospitals in the U.S. now provide it, up from just 7% in 2001. "High quality palliative care has been shown to improve patient and family quality of life, improve patients' and families' healthcare experiences, and in certain diseases, prolong life," says Dr. R. Sean Morrison, director of the National Palliative Care Research Center. The center estimates that 12 million adults suffer from serious illness nationally. Treating pain can be as important as treating disease. Palliative care can transform the lives of people with serious, life-threatening conditions, we witness it every day at Turville Bay Radiation Oncology Center.

Palliative care provides relief from the symptoms and stress of illness. At Turville Bay we use radiation therapy palliatively to relieve pain. Further, our physicians and staff listen carefully to patients and their families, answer questions and strive to meet their concerns regarding anxiety and fatigue, which can be problematic for those with cancer. A simple but powerful question we ask our palliative care patients is, “What matters to you?” says Shagun Saggar, MD, HMDC Chief, Palliative Care Medicine at SSM-Health-Wisconsin.

The need for palliative care at all stages of illness is clear, and the field is rising. Turville Bay’s philosophy of patient centered care delivers because every patient deserves the best possible experience.

It’s All About You: Individualized Breast Cancer Care

Doctors at Turville Bay SSM Health

As Turville Bay Radiation Oncology Center formalizes its ties with SSM Health we’ve strengthened our relationships with those physicians that form our cancer care teams. I’m happy to introduce Dr. Dana Henkel, a surgeon that works closely with breast cancer patients. Here, Dr. Henkel speaks to our individualized care at SSM Health. Dr. Michelle Mackay, Radiation Oncologist at Turville Bay, a member of SSM Health

“In 2019, around 268,600 U.S. women will be diagnosed with invasive breast cancer, according to American Cancer Society. But even though breast cancer is a common disease, each patient’s situation is unique. What works well for one patient, may not work as well for another.

That’s why at SSM Health, we’re focused on individualized treatment and recovery plans. I’m part of the breast cancer care team, which includes all the specialties needed for comprehensive breast cancer care: surgeons, medical oncologists, pathologists, radiation oncologists, genetic counselors and a nurse navigator. We work together to develop and deliver a personalized treatment plan that is right for each patient.

When surgery is a part of the treatment plan, I get to know what’s important to my patients and what concerns they may have, before recommending a surgical approach. We use an array of innovative surgical technologies depending on the patient’s specific needs, including technologies that enable precise surgical navigation when removing cancerous tissue.

At SSM Health, we offer comprehensive breast cancer care that is individualized for each patient. Our team of breast cancer care specialists diagnose and treat over 150 new breast cancers per year, each with an individualized treatment plan.”  Dr. Dana Henkel, SSM Health Surgeon 

Turville Bay is Now a Member of SSM Health

Dr Michelle Mackay Turville Bay

Founded in 1986 by Madison’s 2 community hospitals, Turville Bay is south central Wisconsin’s radiation oncology center for the treatment of cancer and other serious illnesses. In the years since the center opened its doors, our relationship with SSM Health strengthened. Now as a member of SSM Health we renew our efforts: together, we fight cancer. 

This October we’re shining a light on the SSM Health breast care team. It all starts with the patient: Self-care. Regular screening by a physician and mammograms. And if that patient is diagnosed with breast cancer our breast cancer team steps in. Turville Bay’s radiation oncologists work intensively with SSM Health’s medical oncologists, surgeons, infusion teams and comprehensive genetics.  Through this team of healthcare professionals, the patient receives continual personalized care. Together we bring hope and healing to the 1 in 8 women that develop this challenging disease. Together we heal.

Turville Bay’s Technology Delivers

Dr June Kim Turville Bay

A remarkable piece of science and technology, Turville Bay’s TrueBeam linear accelerator is one of the pieces of equipment that delivers the power and flexibility we need to fight cancer. So, we bought another one and it’s just come online here at Turville Bay Radiation Oncology Center. Investment in this technology is just part of our dedication to patient-centered care.

From the patient’s first visit we use state of the art science and technology to better understand their body and how the disease is affecting it. We use it to craft a highly personalized treatment plan that will carry them through weeks of therapy. And during treatment, we direct its power to shrink tumors and destroy their DNA so they can no longer harm the patient.

At the helm of this science and technology is a team of healthcare providers, medical physicists, radiation oncology physicians and nurses, imaging specialists, dosimetrists that calculate dosage, treatment therapists, and support staff that patients never meet but have worked for weeks to help them heal.

In the center of this team and technology is the patient, struggling with a disease that seems mysterious and all consuming. Appointments, tests, technology they’ve never seen, healthcare providers they’ve never met, and a language of terms they’ve never heard. At this intersection we meet the patient following a referral from another care team. We build a relationship with that patient, learning about them, their family and close friends. We listen, we share information, and we keep their preferences in the forefront of each decision.

Healing is about people, and keeping their humanity, as we draw on the power of technology and science. We’re grateful to work with each patient, restoring their health and wellbeing.  It’s an everyday wonder we never take for granted.