The MD Anderson Cancer Center at Cooper will begin offering treatment within weeks, but its largest impact will take decades to unfold as it joins the global effort to develop new treatments for cancer.
That was part of the message at yesterday’s opening ceremony, which was attended by some of the state’s top political and healthcare officials.
The partnership between Cooper Health System and the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, announced in June, will include South Jersey patients in clinical trials and research.
“This is a really special day for all of the people who walk through the doors in the years to come,” said Governor Chris Christie, who said treatments available at the center will give patients hope that “there is a tomorrow for them that will be filled with healthier days.”
MD Anderson President Dr. Ronald DePinho said the work done at Cooper will contribute to MD Anderson’s mission, which is to “eliminate cancer.”
Christie and other officials at the event predicted that the center will save lives, a point that was also emphasized by U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez, who noted that MD Anderson leads the nation in National Cancer Institute research funding.
Menendez launched into a critique of the ongoing partial shutdown of the federal government. He said the commitment shown in building the Cooper-MD Anderson partnership is similar to the commitment “that the federal government has when it funds the National Institutes of Health and National Cancer Institute. It is why we must get this government up and running again, so that all of the lives and hopes and dreams and aspirations of all of those people are affected by what the government does, can continue to be realized.”
Menendez, a Democrat, also cited the need to keep treatments at the cancer center available to uninsured residents through the 2010 Affordable Care Act.
Republican members of Congress have argued that the parts of the ACA must be delayed.
But Menendez said that increasing the number of people with health insurance, instituting caps on out-of-pocket healthcare expenses, and eliminating consideration of pre-existing conditions in providing insurance coverage “are all elements of what we are in the midst of trying to preserve today.”
U.S. Rep. Rob Andrews, a Democrat whose district includes Camden, compared current research being done to find a cure for cancer to the 1960s effort to land astronauts on the moon.
“I believe that that same kind of commitment is the cause of our generation and our time, for the curing of cancer in our lifetime,” Andrews said. “I am so proud and so grateful that our home, our community, will be at the cutting edge of this great global effort.”
The $100 million center has been planned since 2002. It will bring together specialists in several different cancer treatment areas, including medical, radiation, surgical and gynecologic oncology, as well as urology. Cooper doctors will learn treatment protocols and consult with doctors at MD Anderson.
The center has chemotherapy treatment areas, as well as advanced diagnostic and treatment technology.
Its design incorporates earth tones, natural materials, artwork and a rooftop garden, which are all intended to be conducive to healing.
Christie said the key trait of Cooper Chairman George Norcross and others involved in making the center a reality was “relentlessness” in the face of cynicism and skepticism.
The point was emphasized by Cooper President and Chief Executive Officer John P. Sheridan Jr., who said the story of Cooper’s rise from the brink of bankruptcy in 1999 to its partnership with the country’s top-rated cancer hospital “is the story of George’s vision and how his sheer determination has turned that vision into reality.”
For his part, Norcross credited Christie and former governors Jon S. Corzine and James E. McGreevey with supporting Cooper and Camden.
“All that they’ve asked in return is accountability and responsibility in performance,” Norcross said.
Franklinville residents Ted and Marianne Colanduno attested to the benefits of locating the facility in South Jersey. Ted Colanduno was diagnosed with carcinoid tumors, the same rare form of cancer that caused Apple founder Steve Jobs’ death, in 2008. Since then, he has made eight to 10 trips to MD Anderson in Houston to receive treatments, he said. He expressed gratitude that he will now be receiving these treatments locally. His wife Marianne, who has been treated for breast cancer at Cooper, has been pushing hospital staff to launch the MD Anderson partnership as quickly as possible.
Area doctors who will be referring patients to the center are scheduled to visit the facility next week, followed by the launch of treatments in the cancer center, which is across the street from the main Cooper hospital building.