Harnessing the immune system to treat lung cancer

When it comes to improving the outcomes for patients with lung cancer, advances in treatment are important. And so is detecting the disease early.

In 2015, two significant breakthroughs happened: Medicare instituted coverage of lung cancer CT screening for those considered high-risk. And significant steps were made in the development of immunotherapy drugs.

“We’ve spent the last 20 to 30 years figuring out ways to kill rapidly dividing cancer cells,” says Willamette Valley Cancer Institute medical oncologist Dr. Matthew Lonergan. “We’ve now begun to figure out the pathway of immunosurveillance and how cancer cells escape the immune system.”

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Posted January 18, 2016

Diagnosing and removing a pelvic mass

Approximately 20 percent of women will develop a pelvic mass at some point in their lives. When a woman is referred to Willamette Valley Cancer Institute, a gynecologic oncologist works to determine whether the mass is benign or malignant.

Understandably, this can be an anxious time for patients and having the right information is important. “When a patient has a consultation, we discuss different scenarios,” say gynecologic oncologist Dr. Kathleen Yang. “What if the mass is benign? And what if the mass is cancerous? We also describe the procedure the patient will undergo and the steps we will take.”  

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Posted January 11, 2016

Mother of five credits cancer catch to baby’s arrival

As a wife and mother to five children, Sandra Brace’s plate was already full. Her youngest child, Sawyer, arrived in May of 2015. At 35 years old and symptom-free, she never expected to have cancer.

“My husband and I thought we were done having babies, then I got pregnant with Sawyer,” Sandra said. “My doctor actually found the cancer at my six-week post-partum checkup.”

Sandra’s doctor performed two biopsies, and both indicated the growth on her cervix consisted of pre-cancerous cells. Her doctor felt strongly that it was cancer, even though Sandra admits she was in denial.

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Posted January 6, 2016

Acts of kindness happen year-round at WVCI

High school senior Madison O’Bannon attracts curious eyes when she steps into the lobby of Willamette Valley Cancer Institute at RiverBend. Perhaps what draw the most attention are the big bags stuffed with pillows that she carries.

Madison and her grandmother, Fredericka Smithies, delivered 21 handmade pillows to the chemotherapy room to help make patients more comfortable during their treatments this month.

“It’s really special to be able to give back to the patients,” Madison says. “I’ve known people who’ve had cancer and have come here for treatment. It makes me feel like I’m helping in a small way.”

Fredericka, known to most as Freddie, first taught Madison to sew when her granddaughter was just 3 years old. Helping others is something Fredericka instills in all her sewing students.

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Posted December 15, 2015

Firefighter turns loss into hope for patients

Firefighter and paramedic Michael Lundeen has spent his career helping people during scary and difficult moments.

For Michael, one of his most difficult moments was losing his close friend, David Sneed, to cancer. Six months after complaining of pain under his arm while playing golf, David passed away from lymphoma at the age of 27.

“That loss really woke me up. He was too young,” Michael says. “Somehow, in my mind, I thought this would be a long fight. And it shocked the heck out of me when he was gone.”

The loss of his childhood friend spurred Michael to start racing go-karts as a hobby, since he and David were both big NASCAR fans. That hobby morphed into MDL Motorsports and has since become a way to honor his friend. Team Lundeen, the charitable division of MDL Motorsports, is committed to supporting Oregon Cancer Foundation. OCF provides stopgap financial assistance to patients undergoing cancer treatment in Lane County.

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Posted December 10, 2015