BREWER, Maine — A diagnosis of cancer is always devastating, but the mood in the new Lafayette Family Cancer Center on Wednesday was jubilant. With just a few days until the spacious, light-filled clinical center starts treating patients, supporters and Eastern Maine Medical Center officials gathered to dedicate and tour the new facility and to celebrate a new era of cancer treatment in eastern Maine.
“So many people have contributed to this project, there is no way a cancer patient can walk in here and not feel the support of the community,” said Carla Lafayette. She and her husband, Danny, residents of Hampden and owners of a hotel chain, are the lead donors in the Champion the Cure fundraiser, which has raised $11 million over two years from thousands of area residents, businesses and other sources.
The new facility takes the place of the overcrowded and warrenlike Cancer Care of Maine center on the ground floor at EMMC in Bangor. It is named for the Lafayette family — including their son Ramsey, who was diagnosed with melanoma at age 18 and who is now cancer-free — and their extended “family” of hotel managers and employees, many of whom have supported the cancer center through voluntary contributions.
For donors Karen and Dick Stanley of Castine, the funding and construction of the new facility parallels a personal journey. Both were recently treated for cancer at the old Cancer Care of Maine facility and have been involved in community fundraising for the new center.
“We had wonderful care from fabulous people,” Karen Stanley said, “and now we’re giving them the space and the facility they need and deserve.” The new center also will make it easier to attract new clinical and research professionals to the area, she said.
But the real beauty of the new center is its many advantages for cancer patients and their families. From valet parking to state-of-the-art radiation therapy capabilities, the center is designed by and for the patients who will seek treatment there.
The 123,000-square-foot building features a welcoming lobby area with a central granite fireplace and a curving stairway to the second floor. Exam rooms and treatment areas on the second story offer privacy and comfort to patients and family members — amenities largely absent from the old facility. Natural light and expansive views prevail.
Many of the 35 treatment rooms feature large windows with views east to Copeland Hill and beyond. Each room also offers a private television with speakers built into the headrest of a comfortable recliner, where patients can watch their favorite programming while being infused with chemotherapeutic drugs. A protected balcony with radiant heat in the decking fits into the eastward curve of the building and provides year-round outdoor access. A community sitting area and kitchen invite conversation and socialization.
Downstairs, a new “stereotactic” radiation therapy machine is capable of delivering a minutely focused, high-level dose of radiation to shrink or eliminate tumors. The multimillion-dollar machine is the only one in Maine that self-adjusts to ensure the radiation beam does not slide off-target and damage adjacent organs and tissues when a patient moves.
“The fact that you can have such precision means that you can deliver a higher dose of radiation at each visit and decrease the number of times a patient has to come back,” said clinical physicist Larry Hambrick. Especially for patients who must travel a distance or stay in local hotels for their care, that’s a big benefit, he said.
The third floor of the new building offers office space and will include offices and computer resources for researchers from the Maine Institute for Human Genetics and Health, which is currently headquartered on Sylvan Road near the Bangor Mall. Scientists from the genetics institute will work with cancer care clinicians to test emerging therapies, track cancer statistics and perform other related research.
CEO Deborah Carey Johnson of EMMC said the new facility, constructed and equipped at a total cost of about $42 million, offers improved space, a healing atmosphere and a spirit of hope to cancer patients in Maine, which has one of the highest cancer rates in the nation.
Though clinicians will start treating patients in the new facility later this month, Champion the Cure campaign director Brad Coffey said fundraising efforts continue.
The Lafayette Family Cancer Center was designed by the Portland-based architectural firm SMRT. The general contractor is Barr & Barr Builders, which has offices in Maine, Boston, New York City, Connecticut and New Jersey.
On the Web: www.championthecure.org