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Article - Cancer survivor gives back

Cancer survivor gives back

Cancer survivor gives back

This, she said, "is huge."

Posted: Wed, Dec 19, 2012

She typed the words "leading lymphoma treatment center" into the Google search box and pressed enter.

It was September 2004 and Chris Pilcher-Huerter of Omaha, who just days before was living a happy and seemingly healthy life, was now seeking treatment advice for her newly diagnosed Hodgkin's lymphoma.

The search results that appeared on her computer screen matched what she already knew – what everyone, including her family full of medical professionals, had told her. The best option was only a few miles from home – the University of Nebraska Medical Center.

Pilcher-Huerter made an appointment with Julie Vose, M.D., M.B.A., chief of the UNMC Division of Oncology and Hematology, an internationally known expert in the treatment of patients with lymphoma.

"I had the opportunity and the means to go anywhere. I could've gone to one of the most well-known cancer centers in the country," Pilcher-Huerter said. "But after my initial meeting with Dr. Vose, and the immediacy the team showed, I chose with confidence to stay right here at home."

By January 2005, Pilcher-Huerter had completed chemotherapy and radiation, and the lymphoma had gone into remission. Three years later, though, it relapsed and she was again faced with treatment decisions.

But where she would be treated was not a decision she needed to make.

"Naturally, I knew I would go back to UNMC," she said.

With an aggressive treatment plan, one that included a stem cell transplant, she beat lymphoma a second time.

Now three years cancer-free, Pilcher-Huerter "strives to pay it back" to the place and the people who gave her back her life. She volunteers at UNMC and serves on the UNMC Patient Family Advisory Council, among other roles.

It was through her work with the council that she first became aware of the plans for a new cancer center on the UNMC and The Nebraska Medical Center campus in Omaha.

Plans for the campus, a $370 million project with expected completion in 2016, call for construction of adjoining, state-of-the-art facilities dedicated to cancer. The campus will include a research tower, a multidisciplinary outpatient clinic and an inpatient facility – all under one roof. The project also includes construction of a new medical clinic building, an ambulatory care center, on campus.

She recognizes the need for this facility. She witnessed firsthand the growing number of cancer patients while she received treatment at UNMC.

"With the high incidence of lymphoma here in the Corn Belt, along with today's longer life expectancy, it is imperative to be prepared to treat this increasing, not decreasing, number of cancer patients," she said.

The single-site facility will provide the entire scope of cancer treatment and therapy by a multidisciplinary team.

This, she said, "is huge."

"From a patient's point of view, going from one clinic to the next to the next can be very trying," she said. "The whole idea of having physicians, scientists, clinics and treatment facilities in one place is going to be so much more convenient for patients, for loved ones, for family members.

"And to have that here in Nebraska is absolutely unbelievable."

The campus will position UNMC and The Nebraska Medical Center to earn the National Cancer Institute's top designation of Comprehensive Cancer Center. This achievement would place the medical center among the 40 best cancer centers in the country.

As UNMC scientists develop the next generation of therapies based on the genetic makeup of a patient's cancer cells, clinicians will integrate this research to provide the best opportunity for cancer care.

The thought of such extensive care for cancer patients in Nebraska excites Pilcher-Huerter.

"Not that I plan on having cancer again," she said with a laugh. "But this will elevate the superior care that's right here in our backyard. And it's going to impact all Nebraskans, not just the ones with cancer."

She raises a good point – the new campus is expected to add 1,200 jobs directly to UNMC and its hospital partner, as well as another 3,457 new jobs to the Omaha area. All told, this will infuse $537 million per year into the economy.

"It's a win-win for everyone," she said. "I wish it could happen sooner."

The cancer center campus project is one of UNMC's top priorities for the Campaign for Nebraska: Unlimited Possibilities. If you would like to support this initiative, give online or contact Amy Volk at 402-502-4112 or avolk@nufoundation.org.

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