Special Report: New approach to cancer care

Published: Nov. 20, 2017 at 2:53 PM CST
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It's a frightening word to hear from your doctor..."cancer." And when you get that diagnosis, the next step is treatment. But what are your options?

The Fred and Pamela Buffett Cancer Center in Omaha just opened this summer. It's a beautiful, welcoming building with a major be one of the nation's premier cancer centers.

And its approach to fighting cancer is cutting edge. The future of cancer care is becoming more patient focused than ever before.

Cancer seems to touch our lives in some way. Recently, it was Taryn Vanderford's college roommate, Karen Freimund Wills, who was diagnosed with a rare appendix cancer.

Karen says she's a healthy person who walks, bikes, dances...basically does anything to keep moving. But, she adds, that you can be as healthy as you can, and cancer is still there.

And the cancer connection continued. Karen's little nephew had cancer last year.

A teary Karen, says her brother's son had a very different cancer. The longest word she's ever memorized in her life. And he was only six years old.

This year, it's estimated that more than 1,688,000 new cancer cases will be diagnosed, according to the American Cancer Society.

Another one of those new cases is Kala Griepenstroh of Talmage. This mom of two seems too young to find breast cancer. She's only 33, so women don't typically get mammograms until their 40. She found a lump on a self exam. She felt it right away, and her heart dropped.

After being diagnosed, Kala, like many other cancer patients, saw an oncologist. She started chemo and had a double mastectomy. Her cancer did not react to the chemo, and it actually grew while she was on chemo. It was devastating news. Kala I felt like she had no other options.

But now, like other Nebraskans, Kala has another option besides traveling to the Mayo Clinic or other major cancer clinics around the country. There's Nebraska Medicine and the new Fred and Pamela Buffett Cancer Center in Omaha.

Kala met with Dr. Pavankumar Tandra who is a breast oncologist. He told Kala this wasn't a death sentence, and that there's a laundry list of things they can do for her.

What makes the $323 million Fred and Pamela Buffett Cancer Center stand out for cancer care is the fact that researchers and clinicians are all working together in the same building. The Buffett Cancer Center is part of the University system, and wants to be "the" cancer center for Nebraska.

Dr. Kenneth Cowan is the director of the Fred and Pamela Buffett Cancer Center. Dr. Cowan says they recruited some of the best faculty and researchers in the last 10 years. Patients literally have the ability to do one-stop shopping. The patient can make one visit and come and see everyone they need to see in one visit.

Research and physical care are two important parts of the cancer treatment here at the Buffett Cancer Center. But there's also the spiritual aspect that's a big part of healing. And they're using art to help the patients.

Colleen Heavican is the healing arts curator at the Fred and Pamela Buffett Cancer Center. She says art really helps with the mental aspects of healing. It provides a calming effect. Scientific studies have shown that art helps reduce the length of hospital stays. It helps reduce blood pressure, and then it also minimizes pain.

The cornerstone of the Buffett Cancer Center Healing Arts Program is the Chihuly Sanctuary. An artist from Seattle, Dale Chihuly works with glass, color and expression. And it's here at the Buffett Cancer Center that he also created a chapel.

Colleen Heavican says it started out as this conception of a Dale Chihuly chapel, and then it expanded into this large sanctuary space It has 10 different art experiences that kind of go throughout Chihuly's historical development as an artist and feature each of his major series.

That's why the Fred and Pamela Buffett Cancer Center is focusing on all aspects of healing...both physical and emotional, and providing hope.

Dr. Cowan says that advances in cancer diagnosis and treatment have already led to a significant increase in cancer survivorship. There's more than 15 million Americans alive today, and they expect that to be 20 million by 2020.

That's good news for those like Karen and her young nephew who are doing better, and for Kala who just completed her last radiation treatment.

"It's the team," Kala says. "I feel like I say this a lot and people are probably getting sick of me saying this, but I feel like I have the dream team. And that makes me feel 100 percent at ease that they are not just, oh she has breast cancer, give her this. They are looking into every bit of pathology results and going a little deeper I feel."

And with a new approach to cancer care, more patients could have better outcomes at the Buffett Cancer Center.

And if you're wondering about the name of the cancer center in Omaha... It's named in recognition of a gift from Pamela Buffett's Foundation. Her husband, Fred, died in 1997 from kidney cancer. Fred Buffett and Warren Buffett were first cousins.

For more information on the Fred and Pamela Buffett Cancer Center, click here.

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