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The IU Health Joe & Shelly Schwarz Cancer Center, an 88,000 square foot, two-story facility that just opened on the south side of the IU Health North campus, is a godsend for cancer patients and their families, who were consulted from the get-go about the project so they could learn how best to serve patients in a holistic way. They found that patients craved a warm, caring, comforting environment in which to heal, so while the building is big and beautiful, it still offers that cozy, community-focused feel.

“We’ve taken that imperative as part of our journey in constructing both the programming and the physical facility of the cancer center,” says Dr. Sara Jo Grethlein, Medical Director of the center.

They started by streamlining the check-in process. She notes that in the past, patients had to check in at multiple times to see different doctors on the same day.

“Now, we have coordinated all of that so that, from the patient’s perspective, it feels like one visit that is coordinated for them,” Dr. Grethlein says.

And anything that can make the cancer journey less exhausting is welcome.

“When someone is going through a complex cancer journey, they are often getting chemotherapy and radiation at the same time, and having to travel to two different facilities every day or see doctors in multiple locations adds to the distress,” says Dr, Grethlein, who is also a Professor of Medicine, Hematology, & Oncology at the IU School of Medicine. “Patients and their families are excited about having one-stop shopping by having all of this care combined under one roof.”

Three existing practices are coming into the space to create the foundation of the center — the Breast Cancer Center at IU Health North, the Indiana Cancer Center, who are a part of the School of Medicine’s Division of Hematology and Oncology, and the Spring Mill Facility, which is an outreach of the Simon Cancer Center. Incidentally, the Simon Cancer Center was recently designated as an NCI Comprehensive Cancer Center, recognized for scientific excellence in cancer prevention, diagnosis and treatment.

“We’re starting off with teams of physicians who have already been serving patients in this community,” Dr. Grethlein adds.

Such doctors include Dr. Kathy Miller, well-renowned and respected in the breast cancer community, and Dr. Rich Zellars, Chairman of the Department of Radiation Oncology at IU School of Medicine, who is well known for his work in making the radiation journey easier for breast cancer patients. They’re also introducing a brand-new thoracic oncology program, a pulmonologist and critical care interventionalist, gynecologic oncologist, and ENT physicians.

“People will have access to cutting-edge clinical trials, which means access to new drugs and treatments as they are being developed and participating in the kind of research that will make the future for cancer patients better than it is today,” Dr. Grethlein says.

The center is utilizing nurse navigators to help patients understand what they can expect even before arriving. In addition, from a programming perspective, they have a top-notch radiation facility not only for what they call External Beam Radiation but also for breaking therapy to provide radiation directly to tumors and minimize side effects to patients.

The integrated health program aims to nourish the whole patient by supporting them physically, psychologically and nutritionally. This support may include art therapy, cosmetology, tai chi, cooking classes or technology-driven workshops.

“We offer a patient portal, which allows patients to have access to their medical records, lab tests and radiology reports, but navigating that —particularly for older patients — can be challenging,” Dr. Grethlein says.

Their state-of-the-art infusion suite has slots for 22 patents to receive cancer therapy, 16 of which are in the bright airy common treatment room divided by sliding wooden doors. The other six rooms are private for patients who are either feeling unwell, fighting infection or simply prefer receiving treatment in an individualized space.

In mid-2020, in partnership with physicians at Riley Hospital, the Cancer Center will open its adolescent and young adult unit — the only one in the region.

“Besides giving these young patients their own space, we’re going to have experts in helping with fertility preservation, making sure that as we are curing their cancer, we are preserving their future,” says Grethlein, who is grateful to the naming donors who made this center possible.

“Shelly walked beside her husband, Joe, on his cancer journey and she remembers vividly what made the difference for him,” Dr. Grethlein adds.

Now, many more cancer patients will feel that support and love, too.

“Between our psychologists, social workers, dietitians, doctors, nurses, medical assistants and administrative staff, we will be there for our patients,” Dr. Grethlein says.

IU Health North Hospital is located at 11700 N Meridian St. in Carmel. You can visit them online at iuhealth.org for more information.

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