Hope hits home

Comprehensive cancer treatment available in the Yampa Valley

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Dr. Allen Cohn, a visiting oncologist from the Rocky Mountain Cancer Centers in Denver, right, visits with patient Delmar Coyner during a routine checkup at Yampa Valley Medical Center.

On special occasions, the staff of Yampa Valley Medical Center's Infusion/Chemotherapy Center brings the skeleton out of the closet - literally.

"Mr. Pigmy is our little mascot," said Tina Swinsick, registered nurse in the cancer room. "On our tropical day, we had him hanging on an IV pole and surfing, and we dressed him up as a bunny on Easter."

Humor is just one of the ways the staff at YVMC help patients deal with the intimidating disease of cancer.

"It's very hard when you are diagnosed with cancer to trust anything or anyone," said Jan Fritz, RN and cancer clinical coordinator at YVMC. "Your whole world falls apart, and you must begin your journey toward trust."

Fritz is certified by the Oncology Nursing Society and has been in her role since 1990. She manages medications and infusion schedules, sets up appointments to see the oncologists at YVMC, and schedules laboratory tests and other diagnostic procedures for close to 100 patients.

Most families don't know how to navigate all the different parts of cancer treatment.

"Education makes them more confident and creates a safety net for them to get all the pieces together and allow for asking questions, getting out fear and giving them hope," Fritz said. "It's like a big puzzle, and I help with all the pieces."

Although The Memorial Hospital in Craig offers some limited cancer services, it doesn't have a cancer care center program.

"All the program elements of oncology are here at YVMC," Public Relations Director Christine McKelvie said. "For chemotherapy and ongoing diagnostic testing, you'll never need to go anywhere."

For any test or procedure that is not offered at YVMC, such as radiation therapy, Dr. Allen Cohn and Dr. Robert Rifkin, who are the visiting oncologists with the Rocky Mountain Cancer Centers in Denver, have links to the top-notch medical facilities that provide these special services. About one-third of YVMC's chemotherapy patients come from outlying communities.

Remission care is also treated at YVMC.

"Surveillance care involves diagnostic and imaging testing, laboratory testing and scheduled visits to Dr. Cohn or Dr. Rifkin," McKelvie said.

The continuum of care includes a pain management program, a monthly educational and emotion support program and personalized schedules.

"We try to schedule around people's schedules," Fritz said. "Cancer is a very personal illness, and it's easy to feel as if you are the only one in the world at moments, even though you're not."

The staff at YVMC understands how important it is to not let the cancer diagnosis be all consuming.

"It's part of your life but not all of your life, and you want to have an identity outside of cancer," Fritz said. "It's an important element to get across when people are scared."

Family members and friends of patients also are provided with support and services.

"Cancer is a family affair and illness. It's not only one person," Fritz said. "We deal with spouses, children and parents to help understand the diagnosis. It changed life for a while."

The staff of the Infusion/Chemotherapy Center tries to be comforting and build personal relationships with their patients.

"It's almost as if you get a new family when you start through the cancer treatment center," McKelvie said. "And they're ongoing. It's a medical home in some ways."

Delmar Coyner and his wife, Pat, have spent a great deal of time in the cancer room and find it to be a very encouraging environment.

"The experience with the medical center itself has been outstanding. I have absolutely no complaints whatsoever, and the staff is very professional and knowledgeable," Delmar said.

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