Cancer center expansion to keep more patients close to home

As Baby Boomers age, more people are seeking care for cancer — many who would prefer to be treated locally.

That’s part of the reason why Mayo Clinic Health System’s Cancer Center in La Crosse has seen its number of patients double since opening in 2004, but its facilitates are no longer big enough.

Mayo announced a $4.9 million cancer center expansion Tuesday, doubling the space and amount of exam rooms to treat patients.

The goal is to provide more comprehensive cancer care and keep patients closer to home.

“Oh, this all started a little over two years ago,” Barre Mills resident Troy Oldenburg said.

Since Oldenburg’s cancer diagnosis, he’s spent many hours receiving treatment both at Mayo’s Cancer Center in La Crosse and over an hour away in Rochester.

“It takes time,” he said. “When you’re up there, you’re pretty much up there all day.”

But he, like many patients, would rather stay close to home.

“You’re dealing with a disease that’s terrible, so its nice meeting people,” Oldenburg said. “With having being (at the cancer center) for a while, getting to know nurses and stuff like that, it almost feels like family.”

Dr. Paula Gill, chairperson of medical oncology, said more cancer patients are opting to be treated locally.

“If we can keep people closer to their support network, that’s better for everyone,” Gill said.

But with all the patients (2,225 in 2016), the cancer center is out of space, meaning some have to wait up to 10 days to begin chemotherapy treatments.

“A cancer diagnosis is an absolute explosion in someone’s life, and we recognize that, and we want to get people in and get them treated as soon as we can,” Gill said.

An expansion to the center will add nine new exam rooms and treatment bays on the building’s lower level and make room for support services such as dietitians, social workers and palliative care.

“Cancer care is much more than just the treatment itself,” said Tanner Holst, vice president of medical specialties.

Holst said the expansion will spare patients from having to travel for care.

“Even for complex cancers, this center allows us to really keep those patients close to home,” he said.

Oldenburg said that that’s almost a treatment of its own for patients.

“They get to know people and the people around the facility here, and it makes them feel at home,” he said.

Oldenburg had a successful stem cell transplant and is now on maintenance chemotherapy once a week in La Crosse.

Construction on the expansion is to begin next spring, and it’s expected to be finished in spring of 2019.