BREWER, Maine — When Jeni Lloyd was diagnosed with breast cancer four years ago, the medical treatment she received at CancerCare of Maine was top-notch — professional, compassionate and effective.
“What was more difficult was the facility,” the 43-year-old Hampden resident said Thursday evening, speaking to a supportive audience outside the Eastern Maine Healthcare Systems headquarters in Brewer. The gathering marked the beginning of the final phase of a $9.5 million fundraising campaign to support a new cancer center under construction at the Whiting Hill corporate site.
The CancerCare of Maine program, Lloyd recalled, was then — and is still — housed in a fragmented warren of dark rooms and claustrophobic cubicles across the river in Bangor at Eastern Maine Medical Center. The location made it hard for her to get to her appointments, awkward to include family members in her care, and depressing to spend time getting the treatments she needed.
“When you have cancer, time takes on a profound meaning. An hour can seem like an eternity, and where you spend that hour means everything,” Lloyd said.
Lloyd said she is now cancer-free and no longer in treatment.
Thanks in part to the hard work of campaign staff and volunteers and the generosity of more than 1,500 donors, the Champion the Cure campaign has raised $8.8 million over the past two years from corporate donors, employees of EMMC and EMHS, selected individuals and others. Thursday’s event rolled out the next phase of the campaign, which will target a more grass-roots population through community hospital outreach, private house parties and other local efforts.
The money will help pay for the curvaceous new building under construction at Whiting Hill, which will house the 70,000-square-foot CancerCare of Maine program as well as the Maine Institute for Human Genetics and Health.
Computer images and architectural drawings of the new facility on display at Thursday’s gathering highlighted its expanses of windows, designed to capture as much natural light as possible as well as views of the rolling, wooded terrain to the east. A fresh-air terrace, a curving, glass-walled corridor, a resource library and spaces designed for privacy as well as sociability promise a patient-friendly environment. Clinically, the new building will provide much-improved areas for treatments, examinations and consultations.
It is expected to open in December for patient care, followed in stages by the genetics research institute, now housed on Sylvan Road in Bangor.
Maine’s cancer rates are the highest in the nation. Dr. Laurent Beauregard, recently retired as the associate director of the research institute, said Thursday that there is no scientific consensus on why Maine’s rates are so high.
Some people think it is related to Maine’s oldest-in-the-nation population, he said. Others speculate that genetic factors related to the state’s homogenous culture may be to blame, and others think environmental factors — such as smoking and exposure to naturally occurring radon gas from granite outcroppings — are involved.
“The real answer is probably that it’s a mixture of these things,” Beauregard said — complex genetic factors that make some individuals more susceptible to environmental exposures.
The work of the genetic research institute is to unravel these mysteries and see how they relate to each other. By working in proximity to clinicians and patients, researchers hope to advance understanding of the causes, early diagnosis and treatment of cancer.