Fighting cancer at home | SierraSun.com

Fighting cancer at home

Christine Stanley
Sierra Sun

Photo by Ryan Salm/Sierra SunTahoe City resident Betsy Watson sits in the new Tahoe Forest Oncology Center.

Betsy Watson, a Tahoe City lung cancer survivor, spent four hours in her car five days a week for eight weeks in order to get the chemotherapy treatment in Sacramento that would help save her life.

The commute was exhausting, Watson said, and she would have loved an option closer to home where she could find not only treatment but a network of patient support.

That option is now available in Truckee.

Tahoe Forest Hospital has unveiled its new state-of-the-art oncology center led by Dr. Laurence Heifetz. For 25 years Heifetz served as an oncologist at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, the dominant oncology group in Los Angeles, and 13 years as an associate clinical professor of medicine at UCLA.

Heifetz moved to Truckee three years ago to develop the hospital’s cancer program.

“The major service is the ability to diagnose a patient and treat them fully right here, without the need to go to Reno or Sacramento,” Heifetz said.

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The Tahoe Forest oncology program can provide patients with four oncology nurses, chemotherapy, diagnostic imaging services, psycho-social support, nutritionists, pain management services and more.

“It brings a three-week work up (diagnosis process) down to five days,” said Heifetz, who has already seen nearly 30 patients since the program’s inception six weeks ago.

Heifetz’s deep connection to the oncology community also means quicker access to referrals and second opinions from medical leaders at UC Davis, UC San Francisco and Stanford medical centers.

The current missing piece is radiation therapy. At a cost of $2 million for the necessary equipment, it’s just not feasible right now, according to hospital marketing director Paige Nebeker.

Watson, meanwhile, said what the hospital is offering is an important addition for the entire region.

“It’s not just the medicine, it’s the conversations,” she said. “If you’re being treated locally, you touch base with other patients. You create bonds and can continue giving one another support in the community.”