A Unique Cancer Treatment Center Opens in Northeast Oklahoma

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Northeastern Oklahoma Cancer Institute recently held its grand opening in Claremore in a ribbon-cutting ceremony.  Patients past and present, physicians, local city officials, and others turned out to commemorate the occasion. Pictured:  Back row – Mayor Bill Flanigan, David Chaussard, Robert LoBue, Leonard Berbee, unnamed attendee, Megan Parkinson, Nancy Phelps.  Front Row -  Dr. Diane Heaton, Dr. Terry Styles, Kacie Boyd, Denise Rhames, Robin Mixon, Dan Moore, Gertrude Wilson.

A $3 million cancer clinic in northeast Oklahoma recently celebrated its grand opening with an open house and a commemorative ribbon-cutting ceremony, but the real cause for celebration, according to the clinic’s staff, comes from the quality care its patients will receive.

Contributing to this care is a cutting-edge machine so unique that it’s one of only a handful like it in the country.

Northeastern Oklahoma Cancer Institute in Claremore became the fourth medical center in the United States to install the Varian Halcyon treatment system, the others being at M.D. Anderson in Houston, the University of Pennsylvania, and at the University of California San Diego.

With the Halcyon unit at the clinic in Claremore, treatments that patients might have to go to Tulsa, Oklahoma City, or even further to receive, can be found in the heart of Rogers County.

One of the Halcyon unit’s biggest advocates is Dr. Diane Heaton, the center’s medical director.

“This (Halcyon) unit is able to treat patients in 15 seconds, versus five to 10 minutes on other machines, so we’re able to have them literally hold their breath during treatment,” said Dr. Heaton, radiation oncologist.  “The faster treatment delivery allows for less concern about patient movement.    

“Radiation oncologists worry a lot about motion, so we typically add quite a bit of margin to minimize the effects of it (motion),” she continued.   “As the Halcyon unit is a very rapid machine, it moves so quickly that I don’t have to do that and as such, we can treat patients in a much shorter amount of time.”

The facility itself was paid for by radiation oncologists from across the country, and Dr. Heaton is especially invested.

“I’m a part owner – I feel very strongly about this clinic’s importance,” she said.  “I grew up in a rural area, and own property in Mayes County, so it’s always been my dream to provide this service to people in more rural, less metropolitan areas.  There’s a parent company that owns a good 70 percent, which I was able to talk into investing in Claremore.”

Dr. Heaton said patients who’ve been treated by the new Halcyon unit have “marveled” at the technology, particularly the Halcyon’s efficiency and, in many cases, practicality.

   “The patients are really glad to have this state-of-the-art technology here in Rogers County,” said Dr. Heaton, “and as a physician, I too am happy to have this advanced option available for the patients in this area.”

The Halcyon system was designed to revolutionize radiotherapy through innovation in the operational excellence, having a more “human-centered” design, and high quality of care, via an optimized image guided IMRT (intensity-modulated radiation therapy). 

IMRT uses advanced technology to manipulate photon beams of radiation to conform to the shape of a tumor.

Individualized to treat each patient’s specific cancer, this technology precisely targets tumors with finely-shaped beams to maximize dose to the tumor while minimizing exposure of the surrounding healthy tissues and organs.  Because of its versatility, the Halcyon system can be used to treat a wide range of cases, including prostate, breast, head and neck and many other forms of cancer.

One cancer survivor who spoke at the grand opening was Claremore resident Ashley May, who remarked it to be “amazing” that the cancer center is in her own hometown.

“It (the cancer) was really small, but they caught it early, so I was lucky,” May said.  “I’m so excited that Claremore has a clinic here for people fighting cancer, and with the Halcyon here… that’s something that people around here would otherwise have to drive to M.D. Anderson for.  I can’t believe it’s here in Claremore, Oklahoma.  That’s amazing.”

“A lot of what might have kept some people from getting the treatment they needed was distance,” Dr. Heaton said. “I think we’re finally getting to the point where the technology is really going to help our patients in the more isolated areas.  It’s not necessarily just Claremore, but it’s everything between here and Joplin – you know, Adair, Pryor, Vinita – all of that.”

But the physicians and the Halcyon unit aren’t the only unique aspect of the Northeastern Oklahoma Cancer Institute.   Although visitors to the clinic might not ever see them, there are messages of hope and encouragement written on the walls of the treatment room,  just under the surface.

Beneath the bright blue paint are hand-written messages of encouragement, prayer, and hope that were written on the walls during the center’s construction.  Messages like:

“Keep your faith and never give up.”

“Rise above, trust above, love above.” - Ephesians 3:20

“Your hope and strength will inspire many others.  Let the hope and strength of others inspire you.  There are so many people praying for you. God bless.”

Each patient who comes to the clinic receives a booklet, highlighting these messages of hope and healing. 

“We want every patient to know that the whole community is behind them,” says Dr. Heaton.   “We’re all in this together.”

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