New cancer care center opens

It’s a bright, sunny, pleasant space that every woman hopes she won’t have to spend much time in.

On Monday, Southwest Washington Medical Center staff unveiled the Kearney Breast Center, a $5.7 million, 12,000 square foot facility on the Vancouver hospital’s fourth floor. Boasting three state-of-the-art mammography rooms, diagnostic ultrasound equipment and a bone density scanner to detect osteoporosis, the new center represents a big leap for women’s healthcare in the region.

Even more impressive, $4.2 million dollars of the facility’s cost was covered by community donations, including a $2.5 million gift by local philanthropists Connie and Lee Kearney, for whom the center is named. Connie is a member of the Southwest Foundation Board and a 13-year breast cancer survivor.

At a sneak preview, Kearney Breast Care Center manager Sherril Allen still seemed overwhelmed by the community’s response to a project first proposed five years ago as a kind of wish list for cramped staff and patients at the hospital’s much smaller breast cancer facility located two floors below this one.

“We wanted it to be a premiere place,” Allen said. “We had staff visiting the floor for the first time that came up and cried because it’s such a beautiful, beautiful space for women.”

That space includes colorful murals in every exam room, skylights in waiting areas and twice the space the previous facility. Much more important, however, is the addition of the latest in cancer-detecting technology.

Taking up most of one exam room is the Dimension, an optical scanner that takes 3D images every five seconds – one of only three operating in the nation, according to SWMC technician Lesley Dyckman. “It makes my job easier, and it results in better care for patients,” said Dr. Michael Morich, a radiologist at the hospital.

But what many women at the July 23 preview of the center most appreciated might be categorized “little things,” like the three dressing rooms for women and the two extra restrooms in the back.

Another subtle feature of the new facility was the separation of women waiting for routine mammography exams from women waiting for the results of a scan after finding a lump. “You often find groups of fearful women huddling around each other,” Dyckman said. “It helps to separate them.”

The camaraderie among breast cancer survivors served as the force behind the Kearney Breast Center, which opened to the public last Monday.

“We’ve always had women who went through the treatment and have been cancer free, sometimes as long as 10 years, talking to newly-diagnosed women,” Allen said. “It’s a great thing.”

A breast cancer support group meets at the hospital every month. And starting in August, these women will have a beautiful new home on SWMC’s fourth floor.

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