Just when your head is reeling from the physical blow of a cancer diagnosis, you have to start making big decisions. Like finding an oncologist, or cancer doctor.
Which leads to choosing a hospital.
It’s like opening Pandora’s Box. Questions tumble helter-skelter every which way, demanding answers. Do you stay local, or travel far? Choose one of the top cancer hospitals or use your small community medical center? Standard care treatments or alternative therapies? Clinical trial or proven protocols? Or even treatment at all? The questions just keep coming. At a time when you may be least able to pull an intelligent, rational, coherent thought from your paralyzed brain.
These are huge decisions. Decisions made with your life hanging in the balance.
Don’t feel alone. Our first decision turned out to be made in the morass of that diagnosis-paralysis and wasn’t the smartest. A quick second opinion brought some clarity and our derailed journey got back on track.
As I look back at our decision making process, here are a few of the considerations we pondered when choosing between one of the large top cancer hospitals and the smaller, local hospital.
*Top cancer centers generally have more experience with different kinds of cancers and also with the less common cancers, of which pancreatic cancer can be considered. Most have oncology divisions dedicated to pancreatic cancer. They will be up to speed on the latest treatments, newest clinical trials and cutting edge research on pancreatic cancer. The smaller community hospitals often have a lone oncologist, treating a variety of cancers, from breast to colon to the occasional pancreatic cancer. Their experience with pancreatic cancer may be very minimal. My Dad said the old adage applies well: local practitioners are the jack of all trades but often the master of none. The added benefit of a large cancer hospital here is obvious, a roomful of like minds focusing their combined pancreatic cancer experiences on your case.
*At top cancer centers, surgeons, oncologists, and radiologists can coordinate care smoothly, so patients get what they need right away rather than waiting weeks between scans, diagnoses, and treatment.
*This team approach at top cancer hospitals brings notable benefits in another area: managing side effects. These larger hospitals are usually very proactive in dealing with nausea, vomiting, fatigue and mouth sores, common side effects that can often halt chemo and/or radiation therapies. The latest research and medications allow treatment to continue without long recovery delays, which is obviously beneficial to the cancer fight.
*Large cancer centers are just that – Large. It’s easy to feel lost in the system. To not get to know your oncologist(s) and staff well. To feel like just a number. Smaller community hospitals here have the advantage. There is often a personal connection and warmth from the cancer team, as well as from the local hospital itself. The decision, I believe, comes down to such basics as an experience and knowledge gap between these top cancer hospitals and the smaller community hospitals. There are hundreds of wonderful, dedicated, brilliant oncologists offering a huge service to small, local communities. Their knowledge base is just by nature spread thin covering the "many" cancers versus the one cancer we are most concerned with: pancreatic cancer.
*The other major disadvantage for many cancer patients is the distance they would need to travel to seek treatment at any of these top cancer hospitals. If you do not live near one, then the added expense, time and inconvenience may need to be factored into your decision. This also means that friends and family may not be able to be physically present to support you through-out your treatment. We call that the isolation factor.
In a nutshell, I think the decision of whether or not to use one of these top medical centers needs to balance your need for good quality care and great quality of life. The experience advantage of going to a top cancer hospital may be the key to getting the best possible treatment, and be well worth any extra travel or inconvenience to you in the short-term. Only you can make that decision.
The following is a personal list of the Top Cancer Hospitals and centers in the U.S. There is nothing scientific about this list. It has grown as I have surfed the web, researched pancreatic cancer, dug for new treatment and clinical trials and read countless blogs. I noticed through the research that these same medical centers kept coming up. Obviously they are doing something right.
I have no actual experience with any of the hospitals listed. My mom has chosen to use a local doctor and local hospital. Although our local hospital is not small, it is still not on the cutting edge of research and clinical trials. Mom’s wish to stay closer to home took some of these choices off the table. We have been more than satisfied with her oncology team and feel the rapport with the doctors and staff has enhanced her quality of life immensely.
I still sometimes wonder though… But, it was her decision. Well thought out, prayed over and made with deliberate confidence that this was the best choice for her. Frame of mind is half the battle! But I still wanted to present this list for anyone else who may be interested in pursuing treatment at one of these fine top cancer hospitals.
So, here are the Top Cancer Hospitals, according to Jane ;-)
Click on a highlighted link to be taken to their website. When possible I tried to link to their pancreatic cancer page. In no particular order:
University of Texas, M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, Houston, Texas
Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, New York
John Hopkins Hospital, Baltimore, Maryland
Mayo Clinics, Minnesota, Florida and Arizona
Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Boston, Massachusetts
Vanderbilt University Hospital, Nashville, Tennessee
University of Washington Hospital, Seattle, Washington
Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center, Boston, Massachusetts
Stanford University Hospital, Stanford, California
Duke University Medical Center, Durham, North Carolina
University of Chicago Hospitals, Chicago, Illinois
UCLA Medical Center, Los Angeles, California
UCSF Medical Center, San Francisco, California
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