Centra Today: Special Edition

Centra Alan B. Pearson Regional Cancer Center Highlight

Always Here, Always Will Be

Welcome to Centra Today!

Beginning April 1, 2024, Centra is launching the Centra Hematology Oncology Clinics. The opening of these clinics represents our commitment to continuity of care for our patients close to home. The same oncology services that have been provided for years will continue to be offered to patients at the same locations—the Centra Alan B. Pearson Regional Cancer and Centra Southside Community Hospital.

We recently spent time with the Caregivers at the Pearson Cancer Center which will soon be home to one of the Centra Hematology Oncology Clinics and asked them to tell us why they’ve chosen to be a part of the Oncology Team. Throughout this special edition, you will see the faces behind Centra’s cancer care that have ultimately made it what it is today.

The team of oncology nurses, techs, pharmacists and medical office assistants who have invested in these facilities for years remain committed to providing each of our patients with the compassionate care they need for as long as they need it. In short, we’re always here and we always will be.

Listening to Connect

When asked what’s the most important thing the world is missing right now, Dr. Michael O’Neill’s answer was simple. “The ability to listen to people, hear their stories and connect. I think if we did that, we’d have a lot fewer troubles–just by taking the time to listen.”

You don’t have to spend more than five minutes with Dr. O’Neill to find out that he is one of these good listeners. Known to many as Dr. O or simply just Mick, the Medical Director of Centra’s Oncology Services takes the fight against cancer personally. His desire to become an oncologist developed after his grandfather died at the age of 63 from prostate cancer. Suddenly at the age of 15, he found himself without the individual who had been his best friend, ride to soccer games and faithful cheerleader.

Dr. O’Neill moved to central Virginia following medical school and the completion of his residency within the University of Rochester’s Radiation Oncology Department. Now, after practicing at Centra for over ten years, talking with and caring for patients has become his favorite part of his role. He explained that as he gets to know each of his patients and their family members, they often become dear friends.

The development of these friendships can be the most rewarding and the most challenging part of his job at the same time. He often watches patients ring the iconic bell at the cancer center signaling the end of their treatment or conduct follow-up appointments where patients are doing well and living the lives they want to live even though cancer has become a part of their story.

However, at other times, he is faced with the loss of patients or hard conversations explaining that while a cure is not possible the entire team at the cancer center is going to do everything in their power to help the patient live the best life that they can.

He shared that he is grateful to be working at Centra because it is evident that the entire team from nurses to technicians to the volunteers housed within its wall care deeply about the patients, going on to say, “The building full of windows is beautiful, but the environment of care extends past the physical facilities.” He explained that more than just knowing that an environment of care exists, he has gotten to help create it with a group of individuals who are invested in working together and in caring for the patients of the cancer center for the long term. Ultimately, he described the unchanging team as, “compassionate, dedicated and welcoming.”

Outside of Centra, it’s evident that Dr. O’Neill seeks to live life to the fullest. As someone who does a lot of hiking (Apple Orchard Falls is his favorite local hike) and projects around the house, he is looking forward to going morel mushroom hunting in April and enjoying the increasing number of warm days by spending quality time with his wife and five children outdoors.

His gratitude for the region of central Virginia runs deep and extends to the team at the Centra Alan B. Pearson Regional Cancer Center too. He summed up his thoughts saying, “I’m genuinely thankful for everyone who has a role at the cancer center. They’re an amazing group of people who provide some of the best care I’ve ever witnessed. I’m also excited for the future as our team grows through the addition of the Centra Hematology Oncology Clinics and its team of providers who have this same heart.”

Committed, Compassionate & Loving

Committed, compassionate and loving. They’re the three words that Dianne Hammock used to describe the team of Caregivers at the Centra Alan B. Pearson Regional Cancer Center, but there’s no doubt that these same words could be used to describe the chemo infusion nurse too.

Dianne has been a nurse for over three decades, but she never expected to end up in the field of oncology care. Having worked at Centra since beginning her career in 1991, she spent many years working within the intensive care nursery before transitioning to her current position at the Alan B. Pearson Regional Cancer Center.

She explained that she wasn’t looking for the position, but through “divine intervention,” a friend who was also a nurse that had loved working at the cancer center told her she should apply for the open position. Now one year later, Dianne is so glad she did.

Like many of the other Caregivers that you’re likely to meet if you visit the cancer center, Dianne has personally experienced the devastating effects of cancer in the lives of those closest to her. Her brother, father, best friend and niece all battled cancer and received care at Centra.

Now, she views her current patients as an extension of her family. She explained with loyalty, “There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think about my patients. I don’t go home thinking about my job, but I go home thinking about my patients.”

It’s evident that Dianne isn’t the only Caregiver who views her patients as extended family. She shared a recent story of how a patient was about to ring the bell in the cancer center’s outdoor space to mark the end of their treatment, but they didn’t have any family members present to celebrate with them.

Soon twenty Caregivers from all over the cancer center had surrounded the patient with support to ensure that they knew they weren’t alone even as they began the next stage of their journey. Dianne went on to say, “Even though they’re no longer here, I can see my dad and my brother ringing that bell in the faces of the patients who ring it now.”

When asked what she loves about working at the cancer center, Dianne’s answer was simple yet profound–the patients. "They come from all walks of life," she explained, her voice filled with emotion.

"You just have to meet them where they're at. Some just need a hug or comforting touch."

She’s also optimistic about the future of the cancer center as the Centra Hematology Oncology Clinic opens, going on to say, “My hope is that each of the new providers fall in love with our patients like I have.”

Cancer Support & Wellness Programs

Centra's Cancer Support and Wellness Programs exist to help every individual who’s facing the daunting challenges of a cancer diagnosis. Whether they are just beginning their journey, undergoing intensive treatment or transitioning into survivorship, our comprehensive range of services ensures that no patient walks alone.

At the heart of our commitment lies the Oncology Nurse Navigation program, where dedicated nurse navigators, armed with expertise in cancer care, guide patients and their families through every twist and turn of their treatment path. From clarifying diagnoses to coordinating appointments and offering invaluable emotional support, our nurses serve as unwavering allies in the fight against cancer.

However, our support extends far beyond the confines of the treatment space. With over seven support groups, nutritional counseling, financial guidance, yoga sessions, genetic counseling, and the thoughtful assistance of an oncology social worker, we address every aspect of a patient's well-being.

Additionally, Centra provides transportation services to patients receiving radiation treatment who live in the Farmville area and need assistance getting to Lynchburg. At no charge to the patient, the Centra van runs daily when needed, picking up patients at the main entrance of Centra Southside Community Hospital in Farmville, and three other specified stops along Route 460 West between Farmville and Appomattox.

Nestled directly next to the cancer center, the serene, healing garden stands as a testament to our commitment to holistic care. Managed by Centra and Hill City Master Gardener volunteers, this natural setting offers patients and their families a peaceful retreat amidst the challenges of treatment. The garden also yields an abundance of fresh produce throughout the spring, summer and fall months. Over 1,000 bags of free produce have been given to patients and their families since the garden was designed and built in 2015.

From the compassionate guidance of our nurse navigators to the diverse array of support services and the tranquility of our healing garden, we are committed to ensuring that no patient faces cancer alone. Through our holistic approach to care, we aim not only to provide practical assistance but also to instill a sense of hope, resilience and community support because we’re always here, and we always will be.