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Hoag Hospital Opens its Remodeled $28 million Cancer Center

Wanda McCargar was all smiles on Tuesday, Feb. 21, as she looked across the newly remodeled second-floor infusion center at the Patty & George Hoag Cancer Center in Newport Beach.

Diagnosed with metastatic lung cancer nearly two years ago, infusion rooms are where McCargar has spent a good chunk of her time.

On Tuesday, Hoag Hospital’s newly renovated, three-story cancer center reopened to its first patients in 18 months, bringing cancer care under one roof and taking advantage of streamlined cooperation and collaboration between doctors, surgeons, researchers and pathologists, as well as new cutting-edge technologies. During the renovations, its programs had been spread throughout the hospital campus in temporary spaces.

The $28 million facility, part of the Hoag Family Cancer Institute, is also providing new creature comforts for patients like McCargar and their families with a massage room, a state-of-the-art pharmacy with all the needed cancer drugs and quick blood tests used to make sure that patients are well enough to receive chemotherapy, immunotherapy and radiation therapies.

“I like the colors and it’s soothing when you look around,” McCargar, 76, said as she walked into the newly renovated center. She’s on a new round of treatment after her seemingly beaten cancer reappeared after months of a mix of chemo and  immunotherapies. “And it’s not sterile.”

Hoag Cancer Institute Medical Physicist, Ben Rusk, helps prepare the $10 million ViewRay MRIdian radiation treatment machine for his next patient in Newport Beach on Tuesday, February 21, 2023. It is one of only 16 precision treatment machines of its kind in the country.

The infusion center is organized around the patients’ desires, officials said. There’s a social area for those who want to chat with others, there are semi-private and private rooms that can accommodate family and friends tagging along, and there’s an area where patients can get on with their day and get work done during their treatment.

On the same floor as the infusion center is the massage service and a boutique to shop for head coverings and wigs. Hoag treats 4,500 new patients annually and about 20,000 patients come for treatments and doctor visits each year, officials said.

On the cancer center’s lower level, new cutting-edge equipment and technologies will be providing radiation therapy and the third floor is where the brains of the center will work. It features eight physician offices, eight more offices for visiting doctors and 27 high-tech examination rooms.

There is also a conference room where a team of doctors can discuss and bring more eyes and know-how to patient cases.

Often time, the cases selected are those that are especially complicated or are patients who might be mid-treatment, but are not responding well, said Dr. Burton Eisenberg, the center’s executive director and a former cancer surgeon who helped develop the center’s model.

The conversations can involve pathologists, a surgeon, a research doctor (if the patient is in a clinical trial) and the patient’s treating oncologist. The center also had seven navigator nurses – each one dedicated to specific cancers – who are a liaison between the patients and doctors and even help people outside Hoag’s network navigate cancer care.

“The discussion revolves around the patient and what to do,” Eisenberg said. “Most of the discussion is based on the collective ideas and then the treating doctor makes the final call.”

The completion of the cancer center sets the stage for expanded cancer research and world-class clinical care, Eisenberg said. Top-level cancer sub-specialists have been brought in from some of the country’s top institutions, he said, giving more opportunity for people in Orange County to find elite and specialized care close to home.

Among them is Dr. Carlos Becerra, Hoag’s medical director of cancer research, who came from Baylor University Medical Center where he served as director of innovative clinical trials. There’s also Dr. Steven Wang, who is director of the dermatologic oncology program. Wang came to Hoag from Memorial Sloan Kettering, where he also headed up the dermatology and surgery departments. And Dr. Gary Ulaner, who oversees molecular imaging and therapy at the center.

These doctors and others are part of Hoag’s focus on research and clinical trials that officials say are bringing pioneering treatment options to patients with the goal of eradicating cancer entirely.

Ulaner is presently undertaking a study, one of only a few nationwide, in which doctors are tailoring treatments for recurrent neuroendocrine cancers to better target the cancer cells with an emphasis of minimizing patients’ side effects.

“We’re super excited about this,” he said. “You want to give enough therapy to kill the cancer, but not so much you cause side effects. This really tilts the balance to the benefit of the patient.”

Back at the infusion center, McCargar, a resident of Laguna Woods who’s been enjoying an active lifestyle of horseback riding, playing bridge and traveling, said she had found just the space she plans to claim while she undergoes the rest of her treatment in the new facility.

This round of chemo and immunotherapy hasn’t made her sick like the first 12 weeks she had. She plans to read the New York Times and catch up on emails while the medication goes into a port on her chest, she said.

Beyond all the new treatment opportunities and protocols, McCargar said she is most happy about the people she’s met along her journey to wellness.

“I’ve seen a lot of Hoag in the last couple of years,” she said. “I’ve developed a friendship with staff and it’s very comforting. The way they treat me here … they see me as a person, not just a cancer patient.”

By: OC Register