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Local cancer treatment center to open next month

The radiation therapy facility will serve all of Southeast

Posted: November 20, 2013 - 1:06am

Radiation oncologist Eugene Huang might have just moved to town a week ago, but he’s already seeing patients. The doctor is one of four people who will staff Juneau’s new Southeast Radiation Oncology Center.

The center will serve cancer patients from Juneau and surrounding Southeast Alaska communities and will host an official grand opening Dec. 12. Huang said the building is still under construction, but treatment will begin in early December.

He said he and a team of other doctors decided Juneau needed its own cancer treatment facility — no more expensive flights to Seattle or Anchorage for care. So, the team got to work developing the center, he said. Besides being the facility’s full-time doctor, he is also an owner.

“The community of Juneau and Southeast Alaska really deserves the opportunity to have the best cancer care,” he said. “It really deserves (its own treatment facility) because of the geographic issues and the things patients have to go through to travel to get their care.”

Huang himself traveled far to relocate in Juneau, having moved from Cleveland with his wife and two small children. Before most recently practicing at the Cleveland Clinic, Huang trained at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. He said the opportunity to develop a radiation therapy program for a community in need of better cancer care was too good to pass up.

“It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity to be a part of building something... and have an impact on the community,” he said.

Huang said he intends to see patients within 24 hours from the time they’re referred.

“My goal is to be able to see any kind of cancer patient that very day, and definitely by the next day,” he said.

Spokeswoman Denise Gerlach said the facility has the capacity to serve 35 to 40 patients per day. The clinic will be a great resource for local people who need cancer treatment but can’t afford to leave their families or spend lots of money and time traveling, she said.

“It’s more options for people who have cancer,” Gerlach said.

Kelly Smelser, the center’s head radiation therapist with 10 years of experience under her belt, also recently relocated to Juneau from Tennessee for the job. She said she instantly fell in love with “being surrounded by mountains,” and the cold doesn’t bother her, although the wind is “a little different.”

She, too, viewed being part of the new treatment center as a wonderful career move.

“This was the perfect opportunity for me,” she said. “I had set a goal a long time ago to manage a freestanding clinic, and this opportunity came up and I jumped on it — although it’s a long way from Tennessee.”

The Southeast Radiation Oncology Center will host a grand opening and open house from 4 to 7 p.m. Dec. 12 at its location at 1701 Salmon Creek Lane. A ribbon-cutting ceremony will be held at 4:15 p.m. The entire community is invited and refreshments will be served.

“The center is really exciting for a lot of reasons,” Huang said. “We can’t wait to show it to everyone in the community.”

• Contact reporter Katie Moritz at 523-2294 or at katherine.moritz@juneauempire.com. Follow her on Twitter @katecmoritz.

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