With tears in her eyes and a broad smile on her face, Helen Van Denessen spoke passionately to the streams of visitors making their way through the second floor of the Phillips Family Cancer Center in Southampton on April 25. The sunlight of a perfect spring day poured through the expansive windows of the new cancer treatment facility, illuminating the cathedral ceiling. Vases of flowers covered the pristine new desks; bright, multi-colored handmade quilts were draped with care over soft patient lounge chairs; medical equipment stood against walls decorated with beachscape murals, photos of dune grass under a blue sky.
Ms. Denessen has been a nurse for 25 years, but spoke with the kind of enthusiasm and passion of someone just embarking on the career of their dreams. She is the nurse manager of imaging and cancer services at the Phillips Center, and like everyone else associated with making the center a reality, she was overflowing with emotion at the ribbon cutting ceremony that day.
“It’s beautiful,” she said. “It’s such a state-of-the-art facility.”
Ms. Denessen is a 10-year survivor of thyroid cancer, so she knows how vital it is for patients to have high-quality care close to home, something that hasn’t been an option for people living on the East End of Long Island. It’s why she is thrilled to be part of the new facility, which will make a huge difference in the lives of cancer patients in the area.
“It’s why I’m so emotional and passionate about it,” she said. “Because I do connect with them. It’s amazing that this is here. If you need treatment, it would be two hours each way, for either 20 minutes of radiation, or with chemo, it’s a minimum of four hours. It’s taxing on you and taxing on your loved ones. That’s why this is really special.”
The Phillips Family Cancer Center is a partnership with the Phillips family, Stony Brook University Cancer Center, and Southampton Hospital. The 13,800-square-foot building, designed by architect Blaze Makoid, has two separate ground floor entrances, one for radiation and one for oncology. There are four radiation therapy rooms, four oncology exam rooms, 10 private infusions stations, and two shared infusion stations under a gabled ceiling. The facility also includes chemo compounding pharmacy, in the same space on the second floor with the infusion stations. The ground floor includes a CT scanner and a state-of-the-art Varian TrueBeam Linear Accelerator, which provides radiation treatment for patients. The building includes the latest technology, but the design also included elements meant to make the patient experience as stress free as possible—chemotherapy treatments spaces overlook organic landscaping, large windows offer light and outdoor views but can also be shuttered for privacy, and the nonprofit cancer support services group, Fighting Chance, has a satellite office on the ground floor, where patients can schedule therapy sessions or seek other kinds of support. Fighting Chance will have a full-time oncology social worker on site. The computer systems are fully integrated, meaning nurses do not need to leave their patients’ sides to enter information on their charts. The facility has also partnered with the Ellen Hermanson Foundation, and the Ed and Phyllis Davis Wellness Institute. Those organizations will provide support in a variety of ways, from donating funds to bringing yoga and group meditation classes to the facility.
The center is set to start providing radiation therapy this month, and medical oncology in August.
Providing high quality cancer care for East End residents in a state-of-the-art facility would not be possible without the contributions of the Phillips family. Barbara Phillips was one of the speakers on April 25, talking about her family’s 30 years of dedication to supporting cancer care. In brief but poignant remarks to the crowd on hand, Ms. Phillips spoke about the genesis of her family’s commitment to providing hope and support for people struggling with a potentially devastating medical diagnosis, talking about how her mother would visit with AIDS patients at St. Clare’s Hospital in Manhattan. Ms. Phillips said people would ask her mother why she spent so much time with people who, “were done,” as she said they told her. “And my mother said, ‘no, they’re not done, because they have hope. They have medicine and they have science.’ And today we know they weren’t done. And we’re not done.”
Before Ms. Phillips spoke, several other doctors, administrators and others talked about what the center will mean for the community. Dr. Kenneth Kaushansky, Dean of the Renaissance School of Medicine at Stony Brook University, pointed out that patients at the center will have access to clinical trials being conducted at the Stony Brook University Medical Center. He said he hoped the Phillips Center would become a “national model” for how to provide high quality, integrated cancer care in a community setting, and he spoke with excitement about what he sees as a period of “almost revolution” in cancer treatment.
Dr. Samuel Ryu is the Deputy Director for Clinical Affairs at the Stony Brook University Cancer Center. He referred to the facility as the “Ritz Carlton” of cancer treatment centers, after talking about how the center would be fully integrated with the main campus and the work that is being done there.
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From doctors and pharmacists to nurses and other support staff, it was clear that people were eager to get to work, and provide the kind of services that East End residents battling cancer have been waiting for. Radiation therapist Seada Abagaro said her line of work, in hospitals closer to the New York City area, has showed her first-hand how important it is to have access to this kind of care in the community, and she’s happy to be part of it.
“We sometimes say it’s your part-time job,” she said of what they tell cancer patients to expect. “I’ve worked in an area where I’ve had people coming from Montauk, Sag Harbor. They’re dealing with the daily travel in addition to the stress of going through what they’re going through. Not having a facility closer to home was a big burden, so we’re so happy to be in the community. We’re excited.”