In 1980, the concept of addressing the physical and psychosocial needs of head and neck cancer patients was new. Only through the vision of late benefactors Milton J. Dance, Jr., a former patient, and his wife Jeanne Vance, did GBMC's Milton J. Dance, Jr., Head and Neck rehabilitation program come to fruition. For the past 27 years, the Milton J. Dance Jr. Endowment, Inc. has sponsored the work of the Center, providing comprehensive care and support to patients and families.
Their generosity continues to make a difference today. The endowment will help fund the Center's newest phase-one that will triple the physical space, provide for additional programming and bolster research.
At 3,000 square feet, the current Dance Center is bursting at the seams. The Center saw nearly 192 new head and neck cancer patients during the last fiscal year, as well as numerous patients in the follow-up phase of their rehabilitation. Overall, last fiscal year, the staff provided over 3,100 inpatient and outpatient With the new space under construction, the Dance Center and its team of professionals are gearing up for the future evaluation and treatment services to cancer and noncancer patients of all ages.
To accommodate current and future demand, in fall 2008 the Dance Center will relocate into a new suite on the fourth floor of Physicians Pavilion West. At nearly three times the size - 11,000 square feet- the specially designed area will have more treatment rooms, larger waiting areas and additional space for new programs and services.
"The expansion allows us to provide services with a higher level of patient comfort and convenience," says Barbara Messing, MA, CCC-SLP, BRS-S, Clinical Director of the Dance Center. It supports our work, our staff, our research efforts and our state-of-the-art technology."
One of the many exciting changes on the horizon is the expansion of the existing voice program to treat the wide-range of diseases and disorders that may cause problems with the structure and function of the larynx (voice box). "By working in collaboration with Johns Hopkins, the Dance Center will expand its voice program and establish a world-renowned program, housed at GBMC, for laryngeal surgery and voice rehabilitation," says Dance Center Medical Director John Saunders, MD, who also serves as GBMC's Chief of Staff.
"We will manage all types of laryngeal voice problems including benign and malignant lesions, neurological disorders and vocal dysfunction due to behavioral causes," Dr. Saunders explains. The collaboration will also include state-of-the-art medical and surgical management of throat disorders including specialized microsurgery to address voice issues.
Physically, the new space will make it easier to see patients, says Melissa Walker, MS, CCC-SLP, speech pathology coordinator. "We are blessed as a Center to have the newest technology, but it's hard to use everything in small quarters," she adds. "Now, we will have the room to spread out. It's an outstanding opportunity."
Karen Ulmer, BSN, RN, CORLN, agrees. "As we have progressed over the years, we have added people and programs. This new facility will be extremely patient friendly, making it easier for us to provide care." Ms. Ulmer is enthused about the planned patient resource library, which will provide information about treatment, research and support for patients. "We look forward to continued outreach in the community. The new Center helps us fulfill our mission."
"The growth of the Dance Center has brought with it higher volumes of patients with head and neck cancers," adds Dorothy Gold, LCSW-C, OSW-C. "I have seen greater and more complex psychosocial issues, both emotional and practical, that can impact on the success of any treatment. We are now looking forward to adding a second social worker to our staff, which will enable us to better serve our patients and their families." Other staff members to be added include a Johns Hopkins/GBMC laryngologist, registered dietician and speech pathologist/voice specialist.
When the Center was founded, research into head and neck cancer was in its infancy. Today, research is a critical
component. Certainly, GBMC's longstanding relationship with Johns Hopkins drives progress. "We can further our participation in clinical research by working closely with Hopkins," says Dr. Saunders. "This entails us now being able to enroll patients in research such as the HPV vaccine related trials, and having the resources to manage it.We will also continue molecular genetic research on patients who have head and neck cancer. The abnormalities in the DNA promote the cancer."
Recently, GBMC's Institutional Review Board approved two research endeavors: "The Efficacy of Prophylactic Swallow Interventions in the Head and Neck Cancer Patient Undergoing Organ Preservation Cancer Treatment," and "Candida Prophylaxis for Alaryngeal Patients with Voice Prostheses." New research projects are already in the planning process.
In just the past few years, there have been enormous changes in the treatment of head and neck cancers. The
most significant change has been the organ preservation protocol known as the Brizel technique, using a regimen of concurrent chemotherapy and twice-daily radiotherapy, lessening the need for surgical intervention. "Organ preservation protocols reduce the number of extensive surgeries and reconstructions from head and neck cancer, although in some cases surgical interventions are necessary," says Ms. Messing. "Chemotherapy and radiotherapy have changed the outcome of head and neck cancer patients, but there is still significant impact on speech and swallowing function, important indicators of quality of life."
Another development is the discovered link between the HPV virus and head and neck cancers. "These patients are often younger, with children and with many financial responsibilities," says Messing. "We work together to help them
manage the many life-changing aspects of the cancer and treatment side effects." As the treatment of head and neck cancer and other disorders continues to evolve, the Center is committed to remaining at the forefront.
"The Dance Center is known for its clinical expertise and specialization," says Brian McCagh, Executive Director, Oncology Services. "These clinical experts have a magnetic pull in our community."
"This is indeed an exciting time of change and growth as the Dance Center prepares to enhance its reputation as the premier interdisciplinary head and neck cancer and voice center," Ms. Messing adds. "As a team, we will continue to strive for excellence through partnership and collaboration, and always maintain that at the Milton J. Dance, Jr. Head and Neck Center, 'the patient comes first.'"