Cancer care that’s making a difference on the Outer Banks

By on November 2, 2018

Nags Head resident and breast cancer survivor Teresa Osborne along with Outer Banks Hospital Nurse Navigator Donna Delfera, RN. “After my surgery at Chapel Hill, being able to receive my cancer treatments and rehab at The Outer Banks Hospital allowed me to stay close to my family and my business,” said Osborne. “I couldn’t have been happier with the care I was provided.”

According to the American Cancer Society, there have been more discoveries about cancer in the past two decades than in all preceding centuries combined. The good news is that the management of a cancer diagnosis continues to improve with the evolution of more targeted approaches to treatment and focus on the care of the whole person.

The cancer care team at The Outer Banks Hospital strives to provide each and every patient with knowledge and support that capitalizes on these rapidly moving advancements.

“We start any new approach to treatment and care with the patient as the primary focus,” says Dr. William Guenther, TOBH Oncologist. “For a hospital of this size, it’s remarkable that we have an accredited cancer program offering two nurse navigators, a symptom management clinic, and integrative oncology medicine.”

He continues, “And we were one of only three hospitals in this state to begin offering the scalp cooling therapy that helps to prevent hair loss during some cancer treatments.” (See Innovation That’s Changing the Cancer Journey below.) Guenther adds, “All this goes to show that the goal of our leadership is to provide quality care locally, because these types of services are most often reserved for much larger hospitals.”

TOBH Director of Community Outreach/Development Jennifer Schwartzenberg wearing the cooling the cap.

Innovation that’s changing the cancer journey
Hair loss isn’t something that most people think about, but for those facing chemotherapy treatment, it’s a very real fear.

Jennifer Schwartzenberg, The Outer Banks Hospital (TOBH) Director of Community Outreach/Development and recent cancer patient, knows this fear firsthand. “Losing my hair was a concern when I received my breast cancer diagnosis, mostly because of my inquisitive 7-year old daughter,“ noted Schwartzenberg.

Hair loss is a distressing side effect and one of the top reasons why a patient may choose not to undergo chemotherapy treatment.

In 2017, TOBH Director of Cancer Services Robin Hearne, RN, attended the Association of Community Cancer Centers (ACCC) annual meeting in Washington, DC. It was there that she learned about scalp cooling therapy.

“When I returned, I suggested the therapy to our leadership and they fully embraced it,” explains Hearne. “We worked with Vidant Health Oncologist Vijay Chaudhary, MD, to review the technical aspects and safety of the Paxman scalp cooling therapy so that we could make it available to our patients.” Scalp cooling therapy works by reducing the temperature of the scalp by a few degrees immediately before, during, and after the administration of chemotherapy. This reduces the blood flow to hair follicles, which may prevent or minimize hair loss.

Today, TOBH offers the cooling therapy to individuals undergoing specific types of chemotherapy treatment. Through monies raised by The Nags Head Golf Links Ladies “Driving Fore the Cure” golf tournament, a fund has been established at the Outer Banks Relief Foundation to cover the cost for those who cannot afford the cooling therapy.

“This therapy was a game-changer for me. The ability to keep my hair enabled me to maintain a sense of normalcy,” said Schwartzenberg. “We are fortunate to have so many caring individuals at this hospital who go the extra mile to bring new processes and technology that help to ease the cancer journey.”

Straight Talk from the Doc
By Charles Shelton, MD
Radiation Oncologist

Eastern North Carolina has an extraordinarily high instance of lung cancer. In fact, it’s the number one type of cancer here, and number three across the rest of the country.

“Why?” you ask. While there isn’t conclusive evidence, we believe it has something to do with high use of tobacco products. But whatever the reason, we are a high-risk population that can really benefit from early detection.

That’s why in late 2014, The Outer Banks Hospital (TOBH) began a low-dose CT lung cancer screening program. Keep in mind that up until this point, we had only found stage three and stage four lung cancers because there often aren’t any symptoms until the later stages. So our goal for the program was to detect cancer earlier, when it is most curable.

Donna DelFera, RN, a TOBH nurse navigator, championed the effort to educate area physicians on the importance of regular screening for current smokers and those with a heavy smoking history.

It was time well spent, because it helped this program take off. In just the first year, we did 97 scans and found five lung cancers. Our rate of discovery was ten times the national average. The best news is that we were discovering the cancer at stage one instead of stage four.

Today, TOBH does more lung cancer screenings than any other hospital in our region. The key to continued success is compliance, because it isn’t one and done. Individuals with a smoking history should ask their doctor if they fit the criteria for low-dose CT lung screening. If the answer is yes, regular yearly screenings are recommended. It’s the best way for us to turn the tide on our historically high rate of this silent disease.

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