By SEAN ROWLEY
For those living in rural areas, a cancer diagnosis can mean the further hardship of traveling long distances for treatment or management of the disease.
In small towns, a local health clinic is often the initial step in a cancer diagnosis. In Hulbert and Westville, the role is filled by Northeastern Oklahoma Community Health Centers Inc., known as NeoHealth.
“Many of the doctors at NeoHealth are primary care physicians, and on occasion we see a patient who has developed cancer,” said Kenneth Gibson, a doctor of osteopathic medicine for the Hulbert clinic. “If we see symptoms of cancer, we warn the patient that they are present, but we do not make the diagnosis. We refer the patient to a hospital for testing or to an oncologist.”
Gibson said after cancer is determined to be present, NeoHealth can put resources toward treatment.
“Care for a cancer patient is coordinated between doctors at different sites,” he said. “At a clinic, we can provide follow-up observations after treatments, assist with home health care, and make routine checks. We can also be a touchstone if a patient has a health care need, question or request.”
Information is shared between all doctors treating a cancer patient, and Gibson said a primary care physician can gather health data for oncologists and other specialists.
“They can drive a mile or two to the clinic instead of going to Tulsa or Oklahoma City,” he said. “If treatment is situated at one hospital or facility, it can require two or three trips a week. That can be problematic if you don’t live in a big city.”
Gibson said many patients also are comforted by dealing with their primary care doctor: a familiar face.
“Effective cancer treatment can mean walking into a big hospital, dealing with several doctors and clinicians, receiving radiation therapy from a big machine or undergoing surgery,” he said. “Though patients realize its necessity, it can also be intimidating. Frequent communication with their regular physician can be reassuring.”
During the interview, Gibson echoed the emphasis of other medical professionals who deal with cancer patients - that it is often treatable.
“Really, every cancer is unique,” he said. “The patient makes as big a difference as the type of cancer. But so many cancers are treatable. Early diagnosis makes surgical excisions very effective. Research and technology have improved other treatments.”
Gibson added that a terminal diagnosis doesn’t mean cancer can’t be managed.
“It is true that some cancers can’t be cured, but many permit treatments which can maintain quality of life and allow a patient to live for many more years,” he said.