Trinity Regional Medical Center's new Cancer Center will allow doctors to treat radiation patients right here in Fort Dodge, among other things.
The Cancer Center held an open house Sunday afternoon where people could come and learn about Trinity's new technology, as well as the programs and services available to cancer patients.
"We've been seeing medical oncology patients, which is chemotherapy," said Shannon McQuillen, director of marketing and public relations. "That is what we've done in previous years. We're going to be seeing radiology oncology patients on the eighth. That is what we have not been able to do in years prior."
Visitors on the tour through the facility got to see where these new treatments will happen - inside a thick-walled room on a machine called a linear accelerator.
Radiation Therapist Don Koepsel demonstrated how the patient bed slides in and out, and the machine itself rotates around 360 degrees in order to deliver radiation to a precise area.
Ordinary X-rays use kilovolt radiation, Koepsel said, but for radiation therapy the machine generates megavoltages of accelerated electrons.
Lasers and lower-voltage X-ray imaging systems are built into the machine to aid in aiming.
The whole room is designed especially for this kind of treatment.
"Because of the higher energy levels, we have to have thicker walls," Koepsel said.
"There's enough concrete in that vault to lay a city sidewalk from here to Walmart," McQuillen said. The vault is also lined with lead bricks, each one weighing 50 pounds.
In another room, Radiation Therapist Christen Shipull explained how a new CT scanner would help the treatment.
Trinity has another CT scanner, she said, but this one comes with the special oncology software that enables doctors to program the linear accelerator.
Images made with the donut-shaped device are sent to dosimetrist, a specialist in treatment planning. The specialist makes the plan along with the physician, Shipull said.
"When the plan is finished, it's sent to the linear accelerator control computers, and then the patient can start their radiation treatment."
Shipull said this room is also where they create immobilization devices, which help the patient stay still during treatment, and where they give the patient a tattoo showing where to position the radiation.
"We're working on getting satellite radio," Shipull said, "so that patients can choose what kind of music they want to listen to in here and in the linear accelerator room."
Phyllis Ann Frohlich, of Farnhamville, was impressed by the center.
"My father died of a brain tumor, so I was interested in coming out to see the new equipment, to see what it's like," Frohlich said. "I think it's a wonderful thing that they're starting that around here, that we don't have to go to Des Moines or Iowa City anymore."
RaeAnn Frey Marner, manager of the Trinity Cancer Center, said the new facility was important "primarily so that we can offer comprehensive cancer services here in north central Iowa."
Trinity has been trying to get radiation therapy here for two decades, Marner said.
The center also has a resource room where patients can find a wealth of free information on all types of cancer. They can also meet with Michele Johnson, a social worker and patient navigator who seems to do a little bit of everything.
She can meet with patients at any time, take notes and explain things when patients don't understand what a doctor said, refer people to professionals if they become seriously depressed, and help if they're having trouble affording their copay.
"For instance, we have a group here in town, the (Angel Ride to Save the) Tatas," Johnson said. "Last year they gave our cancer center $42,000. Weekly I go to the board here that keeps track of the money, to say 'I need $40 for this lady because she needs to pay for this, so she can continue treatments.'
"The reason is to take the stress off of people."