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Bozeman cancer treatment offers quality care without travel

Posted at 9:25 PM, Nov 19, 2018
and last updated 2018-11-19 23:33:57-05

BOZEMAN – Most people think of places like Seattle, Salt Lake City or other big cities when it comes to cancer treatment facilities.

But in southwest Montana, to find quality cancer treatment requires a trip no farther than Bozeman.

A diagnosis of cancer is as stressful as anything you’ll face. For years, southwest Montana residents had to face leaving their homes to get treatment. That’s no longer the case, thanks to the staff at Bozeman Health Deaconess.

“Really, short of some really esoteric clinical trials, and specialty surgeries, we can offer the exact same care here that you can get in in Seattle Care Alliance, MD Anderson Sloan Kettering,” said Dr. Justin Thomas, Bozeman Health Deaconess oncologist. “The chemotherapy is the same here as it would be, even on Mars.”

Christine Appleton agrees.  A cancer diagnosis and a growing family rocked her world.  Thomas became her physician – and much more.

“Not knowing anything about the cancer world, it was a little surprising, but again, I think (I received) better care because we are in a smaller town,” said Appleton. “I really got to know the nurses, and Dr. Thomas became like the brother I never had. I felt really good about it. If I have to deal with all of this, then let’s do it somewhere I feel taken care of and like an individual patient and not just a number.”

Southwest Montana also has other resources outside of the hospital treatment area that many much larger cities don’t have.  Chemotherapy and/or radiation are just part of treatment. At Cancer Support Community, emotional and social healing is the focus.

“We have six dedicated support groups,” said Amber Reilly, Cancer Support Community. “We have about 50 programs every month of different kinds of needs that people have. So we have the emotional support piece, we have the physical health support. We have strength training and yoga twice a week to get people feeling well physically. We know that people need emotional and physical health  to get you well, completely.”

The power of technology helps link local doctors to anywhere in the country.

“Patients want to get things done right away and we don’t want them to have to go out to Seattle or go to Sloan Kettering,” said Dr. Thomas. “We can just say, ‘you know what, I’ll just call that doc for you, I know him really well,’ and then we can start on the treatment. It’s really nice.”

And that all happens in Bozeman– not in some big, strange city far away from family and friends.

“We hear a lot of times, participants say being able to come here, feel safe, connected with other people who get it, what they’re going through, has been a game changer for their wellness overall,” said Reilly.

“It was huge to not have to travel,” said Christine Appleton, Cancer Center patient. She said her family is relieved by the services offered in Bozeman.

“They don’t like me going to Billings, even though it’s only two hours away. So I can’t imagine telling them, ‘oh mommy has to go out of state, somewhere. That would have been the worst. My husband had a flexible job, so he came to every treatment with me, which was great, because we were here in town, 15 minutes away from the hospital.”

Thomas said Bozeman Health is also in partnership with Seattle Cancer Alliance, so if patients do need specific or unusual care, they can easily have their files transferred or simply get a consultation with doctors at that facility.

Story by Chet Layman, MTN News