MaineHealth strengthens network for cancer patients

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SCARBOROUGH — While Nyle Perkins patiently waited for the speakers to finish June 15, he held on to the biggest check he had ever seen in his life.

“I’ve never had that much money, but I’ve never given away that much, either,” he said after he handed the $10 million grant from the Harold Alfond Foundation to Dr. Scot Remick, the chief of oncology at MaineHealth and Maine Medical Center.

The contribution, spread over five years, will help establish the 12-member MaineHealth Cancer Care Network, an organization that is less about new technologies than about delivering care encompassing diagnostics, treatment and patient outreach at an estimated annual cost of $5 million.

Perkins is now four years in recovery from colon cancer. The West Gardiner resident credited the overall integrated care he got, including participating in a clinical trial.

“The doctors were fantastic,” he said. “It was probably the best care you could get.”

The network extends from Biddeford to Farmington and North Conway, New Hampshire, with access to the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston. The link to Dana-Farber means patients have better access for treatment for complex cancers and clinical trials, said Dr. Beth Overmoyer, who directs Dana-Farber’s Inflammatory Breast Cancer Program Institute.

Maine Center for Disease Control data from 2010-2012 shows a state average of more than 8,300 annual cancer diagnoses, with lung, breast and prostate cancers most frequent.

“This concept resonated with our mission because the plan made so much sense to our community,” said Chuck Hayes, CEO of MaineGeneral Medical Center in Augusta. “What we were missing was a more robust program in terms of navigation.”

The foundation contribution was announced almost 10 years after Alfond, who started the Dexter Shoe Co., died of cancer. Chairman Gregory Powell said the grant was a natural choice.

“(Alfond) would consider this the best team in America,” Powell said.

“The worst part was getting through the diagnosis stage,” Sanford resident Lorie Albert said. Her cancer was detected early enough to allow less invasive surgery and have her home the next day, she said.

The surgery happened more quickly because of patient navigator Stephanie Carpenito, who found an opening in a schedule.

With 19 years experience working with cancer patients, Carpenito has embraced the role of navigator.

“I was ready; it is a progression of how I can help. This is upstream care for me,” she said.

While urging all smokers older than 50 to get screened, Albert said she is happy to be a Network advocate.

“I decided this is my second chance and I would speak out,” she said. “Every step of the way, they had people available.”

David Harry can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or dharry@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.

Nyle Perkins, a colon cancer survivor, presents a Harold Alfond Foundation grant to Dr. Scot Remick on June 15 as part of the establishment of the MaineHealth Cancer Care Network in Scarborough.

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Portland City Hall reporter for The Forecaster. Baltimore native, lived in Maine since 1989. A journalist since 2005, covering much of Cumberland and York counties. I joined The Forecaster in 2012.