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Delivering a more profound sense of hope

Rebecca Vanasse, MD
When cancer touches a family, life is going to change. What matters most at that point is the love and support of family and friends, access to the best medical team you can find and one more thing – hope.

This month, with a Smilow Cancer Hospital Care Center now open at Westerly Hospital, the people of southwestern Rhode Island can embrace a measure of hope that is more expansive than ever before.

In fact, Westerly-area residents are the first in any state outside of Connecticut to have local access to the nationally and internationally recognized comprehensive expertise of Smilow Cancer Hospital, ranked among the top cancer-fighting networks in the nation, according to U.S. News & World Report.

Robert D. Legare, MD, an oncologist in Westerly for 22 years, will join the Smilow team as on-site medical director. Also joining the team is Rebecca Vanasse, MD, another local oncologist.

Robert D. Legare, MD

“When I think of the next 10 to 20 years and how oncology is evolving, this affiliation with Smilow is tremendously exciting,” Dr. Legare said. “We have always had a culture of hope, and we have always had the simple goal of providing the best oncology care for our patients, without exception. And yet, with Smilow, this is a way to create a firmer, stronger and more direct infrastructure for cancer care in this geography, and what I love about Yale New Haven Health is they’re very serious about this. This relationship will help us provide the best care with significantly greater depth and breadth.”

Indeed, the Smilow signature extending into Rhode Island means that local patients will have easier access close to home for cutting-edge clinical trials, immunotherapies, genetic counseling, second-opinion consultations, nutrition counseling, survivorship guidance and much more. For example, as Smilow brings a more programmatic, multidisciplinary approach to care, it could mean that a woman with breast cancer can see her medical oncologist, surgeon and radiation oncologist all on the same day, in the same place. It could also mean she doesn’t have to leave town to participate in a clinical trial with breakthrough disease-fighting benefits.

“Research is a key part of our mission,” said Anne Chiang, MD, PhD, associate chief medical officer and chief network officer for Smilow Cancer Hospital. “There are so many new discoveries that we are helping to translate back to the patient, which is why hope and optimism are truly important aspects of who we are.”

As part of Yale New Haven Health, Smilow Cancer Hospital is also a National Cancer Institute-designated cancer center. This means care at Westerly Hospital now shares those NCI standards for “developing new and better approaches to preventing, diagnosing and treating cancer.” A major renovation of Westerly Hospital over the summer means the new Smilow Care Center is bright and welcoming, with eight new infusion rooms and seven exam rooms. A dietician, social worker and financial counselor are on site. Second-opinion consultations with oncologists at Smilow Cancer Hospital in New Haven can be arranged when needed, and radiation oncology, when necessary, is available at the Smilow location in Waterford, CT.

Cancer surgeries can either be performed locally or, when necessary, at L+M Hospital or Yale New Haven Hospital, with all patient records securely accessible through the Yale New Haven Health computer network. Dr. Chiang noted that Smilow oncologists specializing in various types of cancers are always available to offer advice on any patient’s specific needs, and treatment options can be reviewed at multidisciplinary disease team conferences at Smilow to ensure the best outcomes.

“Many of our disease team leaders are thought leaders in the country and internationally, and the research and clinical trials they bring to our institution and to our patients are the ones that are really pushing the envelope for patients and survivors everywhere,” Dr. Chiang said. “Clinical trials nowadays are not just for situations where all else has failed,” Dr. Chiang stated.

“More and more, we’re trying to improve patient therapies up front, to get better results.” Overall, “There is a tremendous amount of energy, support, thinking, knowledge and expertise that goes into a comprehensive cancer service like ours,” Dr. Chiang continued. “That includes bringing everyone together and working collaboratively with each patient. It’s a big part of who we are, and it’s part of why we’re so excited to be in Westerly, sharing all we have to offer.”