GREENFIELD — Kay Sharp of Greenfield deftly crocheted gray-and-red edging on a fleece blanket, the cancer patient it will be used to comfort one day never far from her mind.
She is, in hospital terms, the caretaker of her husband, Robert Sharp; physicians acknowledged the demands on not only those who are diagnosed with cancer and undergo treatment but also those who selflessly see to their needs as they suffer the side effects of chemotherapy and radiation.
Robert Sharp has come through to the other side of treatment — he’s not quite done with chemotherapy, but considers himself a survivor nonetheless. And the care he received at from the Sue Ann Wortman Cancer Center, which celebrates its first anniversary this month, made all the difference, he said.
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More than 400 new patients have passed through the doors of the two-story, 27,000-square-foot building added to the south end of the Hancock Regional Hospital campus last summer. A 20 percent increase in year-over-year visits marks steady growth to the center, say hospital officials.
This week, doctors invited their patients and their loved ones to the center for a different reason — to celebrate survival and hard-fought battles still ongoing.
For people like Kay Sharp, it was a time to reflect on all that has happened in the past year. As she sat, crocheting her blanket during the day of festivities, she talked about Hands of Love, the group at Amity United Methodist Church that supports people like her husband.
Her husband was the first recipient of a lap blanket from the group, which distributes them to patients in need. The blankets are blessed, Kay Sharp says — her husband kept his nearby during surgery, and she swears it has healing powers.
Couple that with the hard work of the surgeons and nurses at the center, and her husband had the best care possible, she said.
“If we have to go through something awful, they are the best team in the world,” she said.
To celebrate the center’s anniversary, about 50 cancer survivors and caretakers met recently with doctors, nurses and staff to catch up and spend time together outside of a treatment setting. Doctors and staff honored their current and former patients during the luncheon and invited them to share their stories with one another and enjoy a day of pampering.
Between getting chair massages from a hospital massage therapist and checking out the specialty items in the cancer center’s boutique, the guests streaming into the atrium exchanged hugs with nurses and staff, who were excited to see them doing well.
Registered nurse Erin Buwalda loved getting to see her patients and connecting with their families.
Many have moved past the pain and exhaustion that often accompany their treatment regimens, a welcome sight for nurses who often see them at their lowest times.
“It’s great to talk about survivorship,” Buwalda said. “We focus so much on treating their illness, it’s nice to think about wellness.”
And for those still battling, there was enough hope to go around.
Avonna Brown of Knightstown wore a soft, mint-colored knitted hat, which helps to keep her head warm despite the hair loss from chemotherapy.
She’s currently undergoing cancer treatment at the center, but enjoyed spending time with cancer center staff and nurses away from the chemotherapy suites.
Her daughter, Kristi Smith, also of Knightstown, has been at her side through treatment and came along to the luncheon as well.
Watching the doctors honor their patients was heart-warming she said — “when they provide such excellent care.”
The cancer center employs three medical oncologists, one chemotherapy oncologist and 15 nurses and other staff members, hospital officials said. The chemotherapy suites have 10 treatment bays overlooking a garden and feature movable privacy panels, flat-screen TVs, and a room for friends and family. Patients may also receive chemotherapy treatments on the outside patio.
The setting provides comfort for patients and their families, said center director Linda Zerr.
It’s a big change from the hospital’s basement, where cancer care was hosted temporarily after Indiana University Health moved some of its chemotherapy equipment out of the county, requiring patients to make out-of-town trips in addition to receiving local care.
“This facility allows us to do so much more for people,” Zerr said.
Part of the cancer center’s charm is its location in Greenfield, Zerr said. It’s more convenient for both physicians and patients than driving to Indianapolis, and the smaller size allows for doctors and nurses to really get to know patients, she said.
What makes the Sue Ann Wortman Cancer Center special, however, comes down to the hearts of the doctors, nurses and staff members who work there, Zerr said.
“If you didn’t know anybody, you’d come here because it’s state of the art and local,” she said. “But when you do choose to come here, you are all the more happy for it, because of our staff. They are really wanting to make their experience as positive as possible. … They really do care.”
The center was named for Sue Ann Wortman after her late husband, Bob Wortman, made a donation that earned him naming rights to the building. Sue Ann Wortman fought a number of medical battles in her lifetime, including breast cancer and lung cancer.
“We couldn’t be more pleased with the new Cancer Center and our staff,” wrote Steve Long, hospital CEO, in a news release. “Hancock County and nearby residents deserve the best cancer care and support — and the physicians, nurses, and staff at the Sue Ann Wortman Cancer Center are providing it.”
This month, the Sue Ann Wortman Cancer Center celebrates its one-year anniversary of providing complete local cancer care to patients.
More than 400: new patients seen in that year
20 percent: growth in year-over-year visits
480: people per 100,000 residents diagnosed with cancer in Hancock County, 2008-2012
35,000: Indiana residents the American Cancer Society estimates were diagnosed with cancer in 2015.
*Sources: Hancock Regional Hospital; Indiana Cancer Facts and Figures 2015