New radiation oncology center opens its doors

With its opening, life for Kenai Peninsula residents living with cancer has changed for the better.

The Peninsula Radiation Oncology Center officially opened its doors last week to the patients it will serve and the community as a whole. Inside, they found one of the most advanced radiation centers in the state.

“This is a dream come true for me as a physician,” said John Halligan, clinical director of the center. “To be able to offer state of the art clinical equipment with the most advanced technology on par with any major metropolitan community is impressive.”

Speaking from the first-hand experience of someone living with cancer, Kenai Mayor Pat Porter said the new center brought “comfort healing and hope” to the community. Now able to receive treatment in town, she and others will not have to spend a week in Anchorage and no longer have to deal with flights, hotel expenses and leave from work — all the logistics of life with cancer.

“We will never have to leave our homes for radiation treatment again,” she said.

Life with cancer in the central Kenai Peninsula before the center’s construction involved leaving the region for treatments, for up to six weeks at a time, and dealing with all the financial burdens that went with travel treatment.

The July 10 opening ceremony opened the 7,000-square-foot cancer center at one corner of the Central Peninsula Hospital campus in Soldotna. About 200 community members attended.

Alyson Stogsdill, president of the board for Central Peninsula Hospital, expressed her gratitude for the collaboration between many to build the center.  

The center, built by the Kenai Peninsula Borough in partnership with the Central Peninsula Hospital, “is just the beginning of an even greater expansion of health services and facilities,” according to a press release from the center.

“Expanding to include radiation oncology strengthens the financial position of the hospital, in that all of the ancillary services, tests and physician visits will remain local to the community and region. This is estimated as much as $400,000 per patient case,” according to the release.

“The $10 million cancer center is equipped with an Elekta Synergy dual energy 160 multi-leaf collimator linear accelerator. Image guided radiation therapy allows for tumor tracking on a daily basis ensuring the most accurate localization of radiation delivery; maximizing clinical outcomes and minimizing side effects for patients,” said the release. 

Entering the center is like walking into an upscale hotel lobby nicely outfitted with leather furniture and Alaska art depicting life on the peninsula covering the walls. Inside its radiation therapy vault there is a spa-like quality to the room that is home to a linear accelerator that is at the center of the treatment.

With a three-member physician team — Halligan, Jamie Blom, and Claire Bertucio — the center expects to treat 200 patients each year.

Physicians will be available to consult with patients undergoing treatment on a daily basis.  “This is not satellite service with limited office hours,” said Dr. Blom.  “This is a state of the art facility on par with any major metropolitan city.”

Greg Skinner is a reporter at the Peninsula Clarion.