‘Hope and treatment’

Elaine Aikens, a cancer survivor and leadership phase volunteer for the Winchester Medical Cancer Center Capital Campaign, gets a hug from her son, Jason Aikens, after sharing her experiences as a cancer survivor during the groundbreaking ceremony for Winchester Medical Center's new Cancer Center on Tuesday morning. Jason Aikens is the community phase co-chair for the Cancer Center's capital campaign. Rich Cooley/Daily

WINCHESTER — A regional cancer center in Winchester will be a relief for patients and their families, speakers at a Tuesday groundbreaking ceremony assured listeners.

More than a building, the cancer center will be defined by the clinical programs housed there, said Valley Health President and CEO Mark Merrill.

He said it’s taken “an arsenal of talent” to outfit the upcoming facility for its fight against cancer.

As a child, he recalled, news of cancer was whispered. “It wasn’t discussed.”

“When I was a child, when someone said they had cancer, it was just counting the days,” Merrill said. “We have come a long way.”

Mark Merrill, president and CEO of Valley Health System, applauds after recognizing a group of supporters who helped raise $8.2 million toward the new cancer center. Rich Cooley/Daily

Through the cancer center, Valley Health will continue its oncology treatment program but has sought to streamline services around Winchester for patients and families in a more welcoming environment.

Construction on the 52,000-square-foot building is expected to be completed in 15 months, and the center should open in August 2015.

Located next to Winchester Medical Center’s diagnostic center, it will feature the following:

• Medical oncology infusion space with 26 infusion bays, 12 exam rooms and physician offices;

• Surgical oncology space with eight exam rooms and physician offices that include gynecologic oncology by local physicians and thoracic oncology, through a new practice opening in 2016;

Grady "Skip" Phillips, III, chief operating officer for Winchester Medical Center, lets a scoop of dirt fly off the handle of his shovel during the groundbreaking ceremony for the new Cancer Center on the campus of Winchester Medical Center on Tuesday morning. The building is expected to be completed in August 2016. Rich Cooley/Daily

• Radiation oncology space with two vaults, CT simulation for treatment planning, four exam rooms and physician offices;

• Integrative care space;

• Breast cancer program space with four exam rooms and physician offices;

• Retail presence for the Wellspring cancer resource center;

• A conference room with 70 seats;

Mark H. Merrill, president and CEO of Valley Health System, walks outside the construction zone for the new cancer center. Rich Cooley/Daily

• A connection to the diagnostic center through an enclosed, air-conditioned bridge.

New technology will include a Varian TrueBeam Linear Accelerator with built-in stereotactic radiosurgery capability, and a Varian Eclipse Treatment Planning System, which allows for image fusion and offers higher diagnostic accuracy and enhances image interpretation.

The cancer center will cost $28.5 million. Of the capital campaign’s $10 million in expected community and private contributions by the end of 2016, the hospital so far has raised $8.2 million.

The design by architects Perkins & Will includes a two-story atrium and a healing garden overlooking a campus lake. Project manager Valley Health Construction Services and general contractor Howard Shockey & Sons will make use of natural light and the view of a nearby lake — what Dr. Richard Ingram, co-medical director of Oncology Service Line at Winchester Medical Center, called prime campus real estate.

“It will really wrap its arm around the patient and the families for the full complement of services that they need,” Ingram said.

Site work has started on the construction of the new cancer center at Winchester Medical Center. Rich Cooley/Daily

Speaking for patients and family members were cancer survivor Elaine Aikens and her son Jason Aikens of the Aikens Group, both volunteers with the capital campaign.

After discovering a lump in her breast in 1988 while on a family vacation at Disney World, Elaine Aikens said she remembered asking herself “why me?”

She was 35, and her son was 8, and she remembered shuttling around town to various doctors to receive cancer treatments.

“Having one place to find hope and treatment, that alone takes much of the confusion out of cancer and relieves some of the stress that you have to endure,” she said. “It will soften the burden of the journey that the next mom fighting cancer must walk.”

Genetically, her son told the crowd, “I know that I have a target on my back, and that’s why our family has really stepped up to the plate [to] do what we can to make sure that our community and home has the best cancer center in the Shenandoah Valley.”

“We want this thing to happen,” he said. “And it will happen.”

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