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Capital Campaign to raise funds for Winchester cancer center

By Josette Keelor

Winchester Medical Center announced this week it is closer to breaking ground on a proposed cancer center on the north side of the Winchester campus.

The $10 million capital campaign kicked off Monday after an 18-month "silent" phase of the fundraising campaign led by Honorary Campaign Chair James R. Wilkins Jr. and Honorary Co-Chair Harry F. Byrd III raised $7 million, including up to $2 million in unrestricted gifts to the Winchester Medical Center Foundation over the next five years.

Medical center CEO Mark Merrill said the estimated cost of the cancer center is $33 million, about a third of which needs to be raised through charitable donations. The remaining amount will come from hospital reserves or equity, he said.

He anticipates building will begin after the foundation raises the $10 million, and he projects the opening for 2016.

Intended to connect with the existing campus diagnostic center, the cancer center will unite all outpatient cancer services in one building, including physician offices, exam rooms and treatment areas for chemotherapy, radiation and surgical oncology, clinical research and support services, a news release from the hospital states.

The center will serve to ease anxiety for patients who often have multiple appointments scheduled in the same day and spend hours receiving treatment, Merrill said. Family members accompanying them to treatments also will benefit from a planned resource library, support space and Wellspring boutique selling durable medical equipment, he said.

It will help patients already experiencing a highly exhaustive time in their lives, said Eliza Russell, 25, who received chemotherapy and radiation treatments in Winchester after learning she had stage 2B breast cancer three years ago in December.

Russell, of Martinsburg, West Virginia, had surgery in Winchester for a double mastectomy, port placement and expanders. In May 2013, she had reconstructive surgery for breast implants in Washington, D.C., though she said the medical center has a surgeon, too.

"When you're doing chemo, if you can have everything in one central location, then you're as good as gold," she said. "To have it more centralized, I can only see that as a benefit to a patient."

A member of the cancer center Patient Advisory Board, Russell attended monthly meetings with other cancer survivors to brainstorm ideas for the new facility.

She said the group's purpose is "to have as well-rounded of a group as possible." While attending, she was the youngest group member and one of few under the age of 40.

Options discussed for the cancer center included question and answer sessions for radiation patients, which the center already had for chemotherapy sessions, and outdoor views in waiting areas.

The group's idea for a healing garden will provide a calming area for patients and visitors, said Jenny Grooms, the foundation's director of development.

She said the healing garden would not be possible without charitable gifts to the building fund, including a contribution form Shenandoah Oncology.

"It's not just a new building for them," Grooms said. "It's a better way to deliver care for their patients."

"Where the foundation comes in are those things that make it better," she said. The garden is partly for aesthetic reasons, but "gosh, isn't it a better view?"

The cancer center will also allow for the expansion of medical center's current stereotactic radiosurgery, which it provides in partnership with the University of Virginia Medical Center in Charlottesville, where previously patients from the Northern Shenandoah Valley had to travel for treatment.

Russell, who lived in Star Tannery while receiving cancer treatments, said having everything she needed for her care nearby made the whole process easier. Her other options would have been driving to Charlottesville or to Johns Hopkins Medicine in Baltimore.

"Who wants to do a three-hour drive for an eight-hour treatment?" she asked.

"I picked it [Winchester] because of its proximity, but I stayed there because they knew what they were talking about."

For information about the Cancer Center Capital Campaign and naming opportunities, call Jenny Grooms at 540-536-2367 or visit vhsbuildinghope.org.

Contact staff writer Josette Keelor at 540-465-5137, ext. 176, or jkeelor@nvdaily.com

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