Archive for the ‘PVHS cancer center’ Category

By Susan Skog

Tom Piccirilli

Author Tom Piccirilli pictured in his library.

From sci-fi-stalking, sulfur-reeking demons to hit men, mobsters, murderers and pickpockets, internationally acclaimed, award-winning author Tom Piccirilli has written some ghoulish stuff. The New York Times described one of his crime novels as “beautiful and perversely funny…a hard-boiled hallucination.”

This four-time Bram Stoker Award winner is used to peering into other people’s shadows and fictionalizing the horrors he finds there. But Piccirilli’s own horror story came to life in 2012 when he began to see disturbing shadows, blurred images and bright hallucinations — “pulsating, burning lights like flares in the rain surrounding five-car pile-ups.”

In the fall of 2012, Drs. Lars Widdel, Ann Stroh and Joshua Petit diagnosed Piccirilli with terminal brain cancer. He would have died in a month without treatment, said Widdel, a University of Colorado Health neurosurgeon.

“In his right frontal lobe, Tom had a very large tumor, the size of a tennis ball, if not slightly larger, extending very deep into the brain,” he said. “He was unfortunately diagnosed with an aggressive glioblastoma tumor associated with very low survival rates and very short life expectancy rates after diagnosis.”

Many doctors shy away from treating such daunting brain cancers because patients may not have long to live or they may experience problems with mobility, vision, memory and cognitive function once the tumor is removed, Widdel said.

“In Tom’s case, at risk was his ability to write,” he said.

That prospect was terrifying beyond words, said Piccirilli, who lives in Loveland with his wife, Michelle Scalise-Piccirilli, also a writer.

In a starkly realistic essay about his diagnosis, “Meeting the Black” Piccirilli wrote “when everything else runs out on me, I can always count on the writing. It’s always there. And now, it’s slipping through my fingers, too. Jesus, not that, take the rest of it, but not that. What am I if I can’t write? I’m not me. I’m not the person I’m supposed to be.”

Dr. Lars  Widdel

Dr. Lars Widdel

But, amazingly, Piccirilli’s writing days haven’t gone dark. And, thanks in large part to the excellent care at Medical Center of the Rockies, he’s in remission and defying the odds.

Only three days after Piccirilli’s diagnosis in September 2012, in a five hour procedure, Widdel was able to successfully remove the massive tumor. Stroh, a UCHealth medical oncologist, then managed Piccirilli’s chemotherapy.

“At this time, Tom is in remission with no evidence of any disease recurrence,” said Stroh. “From a medical oncology standpoint, these tumors require trimodality treatment with surgery, radiation and chemotherapy for the best outcome. All three of us needed to work together to determine the best treatment for Tom.”

With his passion and career on the line, Piccirilli said he wouldn’t have gone anywhere else for treatment.

“No one could have done better,” he said.

Dr. Ann Stroh

Dr. Ann Stroh

Some of that peace of mind comes as patients and their families witness the tightly woven, multidisciplinary collaboration among the neurosurgery, medical oncology and radiation oncology team members, said Petit, UCHealth’s director of radiation oncology.

Patients are informed about the hospital’s advanced radiation technology and treatment platforms, and state-of-the-art operating suites.

“But what’s especially unique about our program is the uncommonly close collaboration we have from the outset of a patient’s treatment,” Petit said. “We all made a dedicated choice to organize ourselves as a team in a manner similar to what we saw in our training at the most exceptional cancer centers in the country, and that gives patients and their families great confidence and comfort.”

And by providing this high-quality care locally, patients spend more time with their family, which is important during such a vulnerable and uncertain time, Widdel said.

Dr. Joshua Petit

Dr. Joshua Petit

Piccirilli and his wife are grateful they could be near their home, writing havens and cherished dogs. And they also are thankful for the smiles, and even humor, they’ve shared with their doctors during follow-up visits.

“I can joke with Dr. Widdel now and say things like, ‘Lars, you realize now that we’re like brothers. No one’s had their fingers in my brain before.’ That got a chuckle out of him,” Piccirilli said.

Likewise, Widdel has enjoyed reading several of Piccirilli’s books, and added, “I really enjoy seeing Tom every time, and it’s really uplifting to see how well he’s done.”

He’s done so well, Piccirilli just submitted his latest book to his publisher. It’s satisfying knowing the Piccirillis are writing rich, new chapters in their lives, Widdel said. “Guiding patients through these stages and making sure they can enjoy whatever time they have on Earth and be happiest, that is a great satisfaction to me.”

This article was written by Susan Skog, a Fort Collins writer and author.

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When cancer patients are most vulnerable and fears speak loudly, the University of Colorado Health’s new Cancer Center in Fort Collins is there to provide a more life-affirming, hopeful message.

From the concierge greeting at the front door to the navigators who guide patients and their families through treatment, from the smooth curves of the building’s design to the healing garden outside, everything about the new center was consciously designed with the patient in mind.

The Cancer Center ribbon cutting is June 4 at 6 p.m., 2121 E. Harmony Road, in Fort Collins. There will be center tours, refreshments, live music and an opportunity to meet the care team. For more on the event, go to uchealthcancercare.org.

The Cancer Center ribbon cutting is June 4 at 6 p.m.,
2121 E. Harmony Road, in Fort Collins. There will be
center tours, refreshments, live music and an opportunity
to meet the care team. For more on the event, go to

“Our intention was to create a place of hope and healing,” said JoAnn Lovins, UCHealth service line director for oncology. “It’s now so rewarding to see all the things we all dreamed possible coming together.”

The new center is a service of Poudre Valley Hospital and is located on the Harmony Campus at the southeast corner of Harmony and Timberline roads. It reflects the collective vision of administrators, physicians, nurses, counselors, cancer survivors, family members and others, who worked together to create a center deeply focused on patients’ well-being, she said.

The result of that collective effort is the Cancer Center. “Through one door, we can deliver the best patient experience possible with direct access to a phenomenal group of medical leaders with incredible expertise,” Lovins said.

Beginning the moment patients enter the expansive, natural-light-flooded lobby, trained volunteers make eye contact, show warmth and welcome patients.

“We want people to feel like they’re wrapped in a warm blanket and know, ‘We are going to care for you,’” Lovins said.

It’s the details that make all the difference, said Jenifer Bowman, breast cancer survivor and UCHealth dietitian. “It’s crystal clear to me that the building in which you receive your treatment plays a part in your cancer experience. It’s like it becomes a character in your cancer story, and since you enter that building over and over and spend so much time there, you remember it forever.”

Bowman was a huge voice in the planning process for the new center.


Architectural details, like the airy, uplifting lobby with a curved staircase open to the second floor and curved walls and nursing stations, are all designed to reduce patients’ anxieties.

“More than 20 people, oncologists to medical directors, listened to what Jenifer and other survivors had to say, and we based our priorities and decisions on what they shared.”

Bowman recently joined Lovins on a tour of the center as workers completed final touches, including painting walls with bright, nature-inspired colors.

As Bowman saw the ground-level counseling and navigators’ offices that open to healing gardens and trees awash with pink blossoms, she said, “They will just love working here. The counselors and cancer navigators are a touchstone. They helped me when I was feeling anxious so I didn’t stew in my own worries.”

A large conference room will allow multidisciplinary teams that include oncologists, radiologists, surgeons, gastroenterologists, urologists, pulmonologists and primary care physicians to gather to develop a patient’s treatment plan.

Architect Eric Eschenbrenner witnessed the doctors’ design decision to have a larger conference room than originally planned.

“It was a powerful moment when the doctors spoke up and said, ‘It’s more important to have a larger conference space to come together as a team to discuss patients than to have large offices.’ That was the moment when I knew patient-centered care would drive our design,” he said.

A core group of seven physicians will be based at the center — which opens June 9 —and an estimated 25 others with Poudre Valley Hospital privileges will see patients there, Lovins said.

By having a concentration of doctors in the center, the hope is to reduce a patient’s doctor visits by 40 percent. The concentration of physicians allows for better treatment of regional patients, said Dr. Douglas Kemme, a UCHealth medical oncologist who primarily sees patients in Greeley but plans to bring specific cases to the new center.


“Patients who desire or need the latest, cutting-edge treatments no longer have to travel away from their home to places like Mayo Clinic or MD Anderson in Texas,” said Dr. Steven Schuster, a UCHealth medical oncologist who will practice in the center.

The new center is certainly impressive and world-class, but its scale is appropriate for northern Colorado, Lovins said. “We are delivering care on a personalized scale. The staff knows patients, nurses know patients’ preferences, and we all remember personal information about their lives. We will have a photo board with pictures of patients’ lives and experiences outside their cancer journey.

“We all want to be known for who we are. Cancer patients are no different. They want to be known for who they are, not the cancer they have.”

As the tour concluded, Lovins showed Bowman the second-floor infusion suite, where patients will receive chemotherapy. When Bowman saw the infusion suite area, tears welled in her eyes. “This is so calming and beautiful,” she said. “It feels like a safe, positive place where you can get rid of cancer and heal.”

The circle of friends area at UCHealth’s Cancer Center provides patients with the option to receive treatment among peers and caregivers on the days they’re feeling social.

The circle of friends area at UCHealth’s Cancer Center provides patients with the option to receive treatment
among peers and caregivers on the days they’re feeling social.

The suite is on the second floor largely because of Vikki Wagner, a two-time breast cancer survivor and now UCHealth employee, who inspired the designers and planning team to give patients “mountain vistas that symbolize hope and transcending adversity,” Wagner said. Thanks to the infusion area’s outdoor patios, patients “can choose to have their chemotherapy in the fresh air and gain inspiration from the mountains.”

The suite includes 16 individual, private infusion spaces designed to remind patients of the strength and beauty of the natural. There also is a larger, living-room-like space with comfortable recliners “where patients and family members can have conversations or watch television together on the days they’re feeling social,” Lovins said.

To gently remind everyone at the center to tap into the healing power of gratitude, a chime will sound throughout the day. The center will continue the PVH tradition of providing warm blankets and patients will be offered comfy heated chairs.

“When I have a few quiet moments to reflect, I am overwhelmed by the generosity of everyone involved, from staff to families, donors to physicians,” she said. “They all are genuinely dedicated to make this the best experience and care. And that drive to always improve our care will continue long after we cross the new threshold.”

This article was written by Susan Skog, a Fort Collins writer and author.

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Poudre Valley Health System recently installed the region’s most advanced cancer treatment technology. Unfortunately, cancer has become a significant disease, and it seems we all know family members, friends or community members who have it.

I encourage you to learn more about the TrueBeam STx that we just put in place at our Harmony Campus in Fort Collins.

This innovative, highly precise new cancer treatment, with highly effective image-guided radiosurgery technology, is the first in northern Colorado, Wyoming and western Nebraska, a hugely positive benefit for patients.

This specialized cancer radiation treatment will be highly used by cancer patients referred to our oncologists by Fort Collins doctors, Loveland doctors, Greeley doctors, and physicians elsewhere throughout our region. It will also be a cornerstone of the Fort Collins cancer center that we are constructing on Harmony Campus.

A letter that says it all…

I want to share a letter I received from Dr. Joshua Petit, medical director of our award-winning oncology program…and radiation oncologist extraordinaire!

Please read his letter below and you’ll learn that the TrueBeam STx is an important addition in the treatment of cancer in our region.

“Dear Rulon:

“This past week marked the culmination of nearly two years of dreaming, planning and great preparation (basically since the moment I brought my practice to PVHS), with the clinical implementation of the TrueBeam STx linear accelerator on the Harmony Campus.

Dr. Joshua Petit, a doctor of radiation oncology who spearheaded the new cancer treatment using a TrueBeam STx at Poudre Valley Health System

Dr. Joshua Petit, radiation oncologist

“This multi-million dollar, megavoltage, high-precision medical device performs the most technically demanding medical imaging and radiation treatment delivery in the history of radiation oncology. Of course, someday this platform will be surpassed, but at this moment the TrueBeam STx is the most technically advanced linear accelerator in existence, and with this capability and precision comes great responsibility.

“I am pleased to inform you that we have been treating a number of very grateful patients without a single problem. Our success is a testament to the diligent process that has been undertaken by our departmental staff, radiation oncology team, physicists and physicians, and the critical support of the health system, especially JoAnn Lovins (the PVHS cancer service line director), in helping to achieve all of the ambitious goals we set for safe, high quality implementation.

“Going forward, we will not only maintain this focus, we will continue to pursue quality improvement every day.

 “Thank you all for your support of my vision for the future of radiation and cancer care in the system. The marriage of our clinical expertise with a treatment armamentarium that is now equal to any major program will bring superior outcomes for our patients.

“You will continue to hear much more about the new and exciting treatments offered to our patients. More importantly, you will see the positive outcomes as they are formally presented, and you will likely hear about them through friends, family, and other members of the system.”

So….this is Rulon again….how cool is this? We are in good hands. Thanks to all of the PVHS folks who worked so hard to be the first to bring this service to our region!

For you, the reader, I’d like to ask this:

If you have personal stories to share about cancer, please email them to me at pvhs@pvhs.org. I am interested in publishing stories of hope and successes and challenges that cancer patients face.


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I’ll be honest. Collaborating to create the University of Colorado Health requires a great deal of work. You can imagine that the combining of two organizations – no matter how individually strong – takes a lot of effort.

That’s why it was especially energizing for us when Dr. Dan Theodorescu from the University of Colorado Cancer Center recently visited Fort Collins to meet with physicians and others.

Dr. Joshua Petit (left), director of Poudre Valley Health System's department of radiation oncology, and Dr. Dan Theodorescu, director of the University of Colorado Cancer Center, during Dr. Theodorescu's recent visit to Fort Collins.

Dr. Theodorescu joined the CU Cancer Center in 2010, and it’s easy to see why he was selected as only its second director since its founding in 1985.

His visit was our first by a director from one of our nation’s 40 NCI-designated comprehensive cancer centers. We are so fortunate in Colorado to have the caliber of CU Cancer Center serving global cancer discovery.

The fact is, though, that with the creation of University of Colorado Health, together we’ll take discovery and innovation to a whole new level. Work is underway to drive more connections and research opportunities between our cancer programs.

What’s so special about the joining of Poudre Valley Health System and the University of Colorado Hospital to create University of Colorado Health?

Our collaboration will combine the science of a leading academic cancer research center with the patient-centered focus of a leading community-based cancer care system.

Dr. Theodorescu discussed with us a bold vision for our joined cancer services in University of Colorado Health, where the patient care path will be integrated whether a patient is in Denver, Loveland, Cheyenne or anywhere in between.

This means that patients will be able to conveniently access the level of cancer care they need by virtue of connected teams across our academic- and community-based services.

Our integration means cancer researchers will gain much-needed access to more study participants by bringing more clinical trials to communities throughout northern Colorado, southern Wyoming and western Nebraska.

It also means University of Colorado Health cancer experts – whether in Aurora, Greeley, Loveland, or Fort Collins – will have the chance to share ideas and advance cancer cure by working together more often.

The Poudre Valley Cancer Network is expected to serve as a regional center of excellence and major resource hub in Dr. Theodorescu’s proposed growth model.

Dr. Theodorescu calls this vision a two-pillar program, leveraging our respective strengths to broaden cancer care offerings across our new system.

It’s our hope that we’ll soon extend the model to a three-pillar one, furthering the network to include Memorial Health System in Colorado Springs.

Individuals of vision have a way of framing growth and change so that people can recognize the chance to make something great. Dr. Theodorescu’s vision and enthusiasm left us all abuzz at our chance to create a better model for cancer care and discovery in Colorado.

On behalf of our cancer program physicians and staff, I’d like to thank Dr. Theodorescu for making the time to get to know us better. We look forward to working with you and your CU Cancer Center team.

For more information, go to the site for Colorado Cancer Blogs and read this blog.


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I’ve learned from watching our nurses over the years that nursing is a profession where a significant amount of personal effort is given in terms of skill, dedication, time, emotions, education, and care.

But seldom are nurses recognized for their important work.

There is one great form of recognition, though. Each year the nursing profession in Colorado honors its own by presenting the Nightingale Award for Excellence in Human Caring to the six top registered nurses in the state.

Florence Nightingale, circa 1858.

The award was founded in 1985 by the University of Colorado to recognize registered nurses whose performances echo the quality and dedication of Florence Nightingale. The award, now presented by the Colorado Nurses Association, is designed to honor nurses who demonstrate the uppermost levels of leadership, advocacy and innovation.

Florence Nightingale was the daughter of a wealthy British family who entered the nursing field in 1845. She did this despite her family’s strong objections.

Today, we can gaze back and say we’re fortunate to have had such a hardy, giving person, with such a pioneering spirit, in the medical field. She helped put the nursing profession on track to become what it is today. Thanks to her efforts and insights, hospital sanitation methods were reformed and greatly improved.

Poudre Valley Health System registered nurses have been well-represented at the winners’ podium for the statewide Nightingale Award. We also have had many finalists represented on the statewide level.

Our nurses who received the statewide honor in previous years were Jo zumBrunnen, Maureen Fields, Laura Lambird, Nancy Mershon, and Susan Markley Miller.

Their work assignments range from being a nursing director (Jo) and operating room nurse (Laura) to an oncology nurse (Maureen), gastronenterology nurse (Nancy) and cardiac specialist nurse (Susan).

Nightingale honorees are selected by a thorough grassroots process.

Nominations are developed by the colleagues, patients and family or friends of nurses. Nominations are sent to one of the appropriate six regional nurse organizations throughout the state. The nominations consist of essays about the nurse and letters of recommendation, and are reviewed on the regional level.

Each region hosts an awards ceremony where regional winners are nominated to compete for the six statewide awards. Our regional ceremony is held by the Centennial Area Health Education Center, which covers 10 counties in northeastern Colorado. The CAHEC also recognizes licensed practical nurses who are nominated through a similar process. However, LPNs don’t compete in the statewide Nightingale competition.

The CAHEC ceremony will be March 9 in Loveland, while the statewide ceremony will be May 19 in Denver.

This year we have 10 registered nurses nominated in the regional competition for becoming a finalist for the Nightingale honor. Here’s information on each:

  • Tamara Bockman, charge nurse in the Medical Center of the Rockies cardiac unit, was nominated for her team work, caring and ability to motivate others.
  • Mona Brower, an emergency room nurse at Poudre Valley Hospital, was recognized by colleagues for the way she provides comfort, compassion and stability for her patients.
  • Jennifer Ellis, who works in the PVH resource pool, was nominated for her outstanding care of patients and their families. (A note of explanation: When a nurse works in the resource pool, that means she or he may work in a variety of nursing departments during various shifts rather than being assigned to only one department.)
  • Another resource pool nurse, Tonya Gilmore, is known for the kindness and compassion that she demonstrates to MCR patients.
  • A PVH operating room nurse, Barbara Hardes, is a nurse educator who diligently pursues excellence not only in patient care but also in helping colleagues improve their skills.
  • Sue Larsen has held many patient-care positions during her 36 years in the profession. Recently, she has been a clinical quality specialist for our women and family services and is a strong advocate of quality care.
  • Another long-time nurse, Cheryl Milner, works in PVH’s surgical services and is highly respected for her grace and commitment to patients and improving health care.
  • Alene Nitzky, a PVH outpatient oncology nurse, is known for her passion for writing and giving presentations on health topics, particularly cancer, for the public. Alene also runs ultramarathons (100+ miles) to raise funds for our campaign to build a regional cancer center.
  • Susan Webster, a nurse in our health system for 24 years, has been a leader in improving emergency services for the survivors of sexual assault. Susan championed an effort to start the Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner program within PVHS.
  • Karen Wikholm, an extremely talented nurse who works in general surgery for Poudre Valley Medical Group.

Each nurse is known for specific personal qualities and professional commitments. But that is only part of the story. Each is highly educated. Each has had extreme success in caring for patients.

And each is the type of nurse who provides the high-quality care, compassion, dedication, advocacy, and innovation that any person with a healthcare need would want.

I wish each of the nine nurses the best of luck in the Nightingale competition. Each one is a Florence Nightingale in her own right!


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Our Poudre Valley Hospital Foundation held its 32nd annual Spring Benefit this past weekend. Every year the Foundation team works tirelessly on one of our region’s largest fundraisers and they make it look effortless.

Thanks to the Foundation for putting on another wonderful event. It was the roaring fifties with Ed Sullivan taking the lead. Yes, I proudly wore my leather jacket and penny loafers : )

Of course profound thanks to our sponsors and the 1,000 guests who attended and generously donated. You more than answered Ruth’s “triple dog dare” and made amazing contributions for our cancer center.

More excitement that evening was the announcement that with your help we’re bringing state-of-the-art cancer treatment to Colorado this year in the form of a new linear accelerator for radiation oncology treatment.

We’re proud that PVHS will be the first healthcare provider in Colorado to offer the accelerator technology, which will allow cancer patients to remain local to receive the most advanced radiation treatment system in the world. The technology will be able to safely target and destroy tumors previously untreatable, providing new hope for cancer patients.

The accelerator, a TrueBeam STx, uses high-intensity radiation, real-time tumor tracking, and a synchronized radiation beam delivery system for more targeted, faster treatments. It will be installed in late fall on PVHS’s Harmony Campus in Fort Collins.

The new accelerator is just a part of our dedication to growing a regional cancer program with one-door access. Investing in the accelerator is a step we can take now to improve treatment for patients while we continue with plans to expand our total cancer services. Thank you for helping us get there.

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“We work here, we give here.”

PVHS staff and volunteers are certainly proving this statement these days. The latest example is the Save Change to Create Change Project.

This project is a call out to our employees, volunteers and community to help the PVHS Foundation raise $1 million in spare change by the end of July.

The project kicked off with our own amazing employee champion, Alene Nitzky, running an ultramarathon race over the New Year. She ran 153 miles for the Poudre Valley Cancer Center project. Her next race is in February.

Alene, along with the foundation, is asking all of us to save our change, while also making healthy, lifestyle changes in our own lives. If she can do it, we all can do it. Together, we can make a difference in our community!

Here are a couple of stories that I have heard about the impressive involvement of our employees:

An MCR Environmental Services worker made a donation of 40 hours of PTO to the Cancer Center Project after seeing the save change cans while cleaning an office.

Departments like occupational health and patient business services are holding their own challenges and having a lot of fun in the process.

An employee in patient business services even got her son involved. He and his Junior Colorado Eagles teammates are raising change for their team community service project. They raised over $500 in change by standing in front of King Soopers!

All information is on ENGAGEinlife.org and you can read stories on generosityheals.org.

Thank you to everyone who is saving change to create change. Your dedication and passion for Poudre Valley Health System and our community is awesome!


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