MILES CITY - Thursday was a big one for the future of cancer care in Eastern Montana.
Holy Rosary Healthcare, part of Intermountain Health, announced a $6 million grant from The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust to support the construction of a new comprehensive cancer center in Miles City that will be the only of its kind within a 125-mile radius.
The groundbreaking ceremony may have just been ceremonial, but it meant a lot for locals like Dee Abbott.
“There is not a single day that I don’t feel thrilled to be a cancer survivor," Abbott said in a speech to about 100 onlookers.
Abbott was diagnosed with breast cancer in March 2022 but beat the disease through an aggressive treatment plan spent between Holy Rosary and St. Vincent Healthcare in Billings, a 300-mile roundtrip from home.
"Most often, I was there by myself," Abbott said of her treatments in Billings. "Leaving Miles City meant I had to leave my support staff."
"No one should have to travel for healthcare access, especially when they’re facing cancer," added Mitch Krebs, Helmsley's rural healthcare director.
The 12,000-square-foot center will include adding the region’s only permanent medical linear accelerator, which delivers radiation treatments quickly and accurately. Currently, patients needing radiation oncology treatment may have to travel long distances to receive that care, potentially impacting their treatment plan and outcomes.
"We currently offer medical and surgery oncology care, but the radiation oncology is that huge missing component," said Holy Rosary president Karen Costello.
Abbott had to stay in Billings Monday thru Friday for five straight weeks for her radiation last winter. Soon, Eastern Montanans will have a much closer option.
"Being as close to home as you can and still receiving top-notch care, I can’t say enough about it," Abbott said.
Construction began this spring, and the $17 million project is expected to be completed in late 2024.