Executive Director Message

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It’s easy to see why 99 percent of patients say their treatment at the UF Health Proton Therapy Institute is excellent when you consider the expertise of the physicians and staff who deliver the care. Our radiation oncologists are recognized by their peers around the globe and in our community for their innovation, leadership, scholarship and clinical care. Several were honored with prestigious awards in 2020, and we congratulate them on their achievements.


Nancy P. Mendenhall, MD, FASTRO – 2020 David A. Paulus Award for Clinical Excellence

The UF College of Medicine carries on the legacy of David A. Paulus, MD, with an annual recognition of a faculty member who best demonstrates his ideals of clinical excellence: making a difference for patient care; an unfailing moral compass; engagement at every level of patient care; and championing teamwork. Mendenhall, medical director of the UF Health Proton Therapy Institute and professor and associate chair of the UF Department of Radiation Oncology, is a driving force behind advances in radiotherapy, including proton therapy, to improve cancer patient outcomes. Read more about her remarkable contributions to patient care.

William M. Mendenhall, MD, FASTRO – 2020 UF College of Medicine Faculty Council Lifetime Achievement Award

The UF College of Medicine faculty give the Lifetime Achievement Award to their most outstanding, active peers who have devoted 10 or more years of extraordinary service. Honorees have made significant contributions in their field of medicine. Through their achievements, they have expanded the national reputation of the College. Mendenhall, professor in the UF Department of Radiation Oncology and radiation oncologist at the UF Health Proton Therapy Institute, is internationally renowned as the leading expert in radiotherapy for head and neck cancer. Read more about his exceptional impact on patient care.

Raymond B. Mailhot, MD, MPH – American Society of Clinical Oncology Young Investigator Award

The Young Investigator Award is a one-year grant of $50,000 awarded by the Conquer Cancer Global Oncology Foundation of the American Society of Clinical Oncology. The prestigious award recognizes and enables promising investigators to conduct quality research in clinical oncology. Mailhot, assistant professor in the UF Department of Radiation Oncology and a radiation oncologist at the UF Health Proton Therapy Institute, is focusing this research project on addressing disparities in pediatric cancer outcomes through a targeted educational program for radiation oncologists in Mexico. Read more about his ongoing work and its impact on improving health outcomes in minority populations.

Cancer Treatments Continue Despite COVID-19

With enhanced safety measures and increased use of telemedicine visits, the UF Health Proton Therapy Institute has continued to treat patients during the COVID-19 pandemic. Since March, hundreds of cancer patients have received high-quality radiation oncology care, including proton therapy, and new patients are starting treatment every day.

The following protocols, guided by the CDC, ASTRO and UF Health, are in place for the protection of patients and staff members.

Pre-screening

  • All patients and staff members are asked to self-screen for fever, cough, and/or shortness of breath before coming to the building.
  • All patients and staff members arriving at the building are given a temperature check, screened for symptoms, and asked about their recent travel.

Personal Protective Equipment

  • Every patient and caregiver is asked to wear a fabric face covering or mask while in the building.
  • All staff members wear a mask.

Limiting Visits and Caregivers

  • Limit of one caregiver per patient during consult appointments only.
  • Additional caregivers are asked to remain outside for all other appointments.
  • No children under the age of 12 are allowed, unless they are the patient.

Cleaning and Sanitizing

  • All high-touch surfaces are frequently cleaned and disinfected.
  • Hand sanitizer dispensers are conveniently placed throughout the building.
  • All patients, caregivers, and staff members are reminded to practice good hand hygiene.

Physical Distancing

  • Seats in waiting areas are arranged six feet apart.
  • When appropriate, consultations, follow-up visits, and/or on-treatment visits are conducted via telehealth.

Telemedicine consults can be scheduled through the patient intake department by calling 904-588-1800. Once an appointment is scheduled an administrative assistant will contact the patient to help set up the software, if needed, test the device, and provide further instructions. 

Welcome Dr. Eric Brooks – New Radiation Oncologist

Dr. Eric BrooksThe UF Health Proton Therapy Institute welcomes radiation oncologist Eric Brooks, MD, MHS, to its team of proton therapy specialists. He will treat patients who have lung cancer, breast cancer or lymphoma using the latest technology and techniques in radiation oncology, including pencil beam scanning. 

“The clinical specialties and research interests that Dr. Brooks brings to patient care are among his many strengths,” said UF Health Proton Therapy Institute medical director Nancy P. Mendenhall, MD “We welcome him to our team of radiation oncologists, nurses, radiation therapists and proton therapy specialists who are known for their expertise and compassionate care.” 

Brooks most recently was a resident physician in radiation oncology at the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas, where he twice was awarded grants for lung cancer research, authored or co-authored dozens of articles published in peer-reviewed journals, and was recognized by colleagues for excellence in patient care. He completed his medical degree and master’s in health science at the Yale School of Medicine. 

Prostate Cancer Topic of CME Lecture

Dr. Nancy MendenhallNancy Mendenhall, MD, FASTRO, professor and associate chair of the University of Florida Department of Radiation Oncology and medical director of the UF Health Proton Therapy Institute is the presenter at the next virtual continuing medical education (CME) class being offered by the Institute. 

The one-hour session is scheduled for Thursday, September 24, at 1 p.m. on the topic of Precision Medicine: The Role of Proton Therapy in Prostate Cancer Care. Registration for the online course is free. To register for the live Zoom event click here

During the session, Dr. Mendenhall will discuss the history and progression of radiation therapy, define proton therapy and describe how proton therapy began to be used as a radiation treatment modality. Further, she will discuss the indications, uses and benefits of proton therapy for the treatment of prostate cancer.

The course is accredited by the University of Florida College of Medicine and physicians are eligible for a maximum of 1 AMA PRA Category 1 Credit™. 

Going Above and Beyond #BehindtheMask

The entire team at the UF Health Proton Therapy Institute – people who work behind-the-scenes or on the frontline of patient care – has stepped up and done their part to protect patients and each other by wearing appropriate face coverings, or masks. To honor their service, we asked staff members to share what inspires them in their role as health care professionals. These were recently featured on social media:

#BehindtheMask honors health care workers. Individuals like Loren B., BS, RT (T), a radiation therapist who is inspired to help patients regain a sense of control during an uncertain time. “I’m glad that I am providing highly effective radiation treatments,” Loren said. 

Teena Burchianti, APRN, oncology nurse practitioner, shared, “After 27 years in oncology, I have observed countless faces and diagnoses; yet, the heart and soul of a human being can never be masked.” #BehindtheMask

Brittnee Z., radiation therapist, shared her motivation #BehindtheMask, saying, “I am happy to be able to work with patients of all ages and help provide their treatments in their fight against cancer.”

Nurse case manager Carleen M., MSN, RN, inspires with compassion #BehindtheMask. She said, “I hope that the smile seen in my eyes provides comfort to my patients as I help them navigate their cancer treatment journey through these uncharted times.”

Jessica S., administrative assistant, is often behind-the-scenes and an essential health care worker #BehindtheMask. She said, “I am inspired by the wonderful community of patients and staff members that work to protect and support one another through every challenge.”

Lead radiation therapist Brittany S., BS, RT (T), provides expert, compassionate care to patients every day #BehindtheMask. She said, “I am inspired by the patients’ positive attitudes while having to deal with another variable during their treatment.” 

Essential health care workers Broderick S., Lavern G., and Wendy L., share their thoughts #BehindtheMask. “We are happy to work behind the scenes processing medical records in a timely fashion so that our patients receive the best possible care our staff can provide them.”

“Every day we are inspired by the compassion, dedication and excellence exhibited by our staff. Thank you all!” – Executive Director Stuart Klein and Director of Operations Bradlee Robbert. #BehindtheMask

“Our patients inspire me daily to keep a positive perspective on the world and to take things one day at a time,” said Director of Administrative Services Jenna H. #BehindtheMask

Each person brings unique talents that, when added together, creates a world-class cancer care team. People like MA/CSRs Everetta, Kim, Tia and René who shared, “As a group, we have worked in health care for 93.5 years!” Thank you for your dedication #BehindtheMask.

The research team members who work behind the scenes, #BehindtheMask, said they appreciate every single patient who walks through our door. “Without you, clinical research wouldn’t be possible. You are helping shape the future of proton therapy – thank you!”

Executive Dir. Message

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The everyday heroes of the UF Health Proton Therapy Institute are continuing the organization’s primary mission: dedicated to patient care. Our team members, from those at the frontlines of clinical care to those working behind the scenes to make it possible, have remained steadfast in their commitment to provide life-saving care in the face of adversity. They are an inspiration to us all.

For patients who are currently on treatment and those who are deciding where to go for treatment, you also inspire us. The reason we exist is to provide patients with the best chance of cure with the least chance of treatment-related side effects. The expert, compassionate care you need and deserve continues to this day, with safeguards in place to help protect you and staff members from the coronavirus. Thank you for your continued confidence in our care.

Stuart L. Klein

Executive Director

Connecting with Telemedicine for Cancer Care

Doctors across the United States are rapidly adopting telemedicine as a way to effectively treat patients while mitigating the spread of the coronavirus. Nearly half of physicians surveyed say they are using telemedicine as a result of COVID-19, an increase from 18 percent who reported using telemedicine in 2018.1

The UF Health Proton Therapy Institute has increased its telemedicine capabilities by adding virtual visits with physicians and nurse case managers. When in-person consults with new or existing patients do not require a physical examination, appointments are being conducted by videoconference or telephone. The medical team has the flexibility to use the system that works best for patients, whether it’s a Facetime chat on a smartphone or tablet or a Zoom or Duo video call on a computer.

Roi Dagan, MD, MS
Roi Dagan, MD, MS

Roi Dagan, MD, MS, radiation oncologist at the UF Health Proton Therapy Institute and associate professor of radiation oncology at the University of Florida, said the telemedicine experience has been positive for both patients and physicians. He emphasized that with cancer, patients should not put off evaluation out of concerns about the coronavirus. “At this stage, cancer is an important indication and given the limitations on in-person appointments, everyone is eligible for a virtual visit,” he said.

When it comes to radiation oncology, a patient has been diagnosed and may already have had surgery or chemotherapy, so a large part of the initial evaluation is done by reviewing the patient’s medical records, lab test results and staging studies. A thorough evaluation typically includes a physical exam, and Dr. Dagan cautions that there are some limitations to a virtual visit. “I miss the connection with the patient and being able to lay hands on the patient,” he said. “There are times during a physical exam when you can directly visualize the cancer. That can make a difference in the treatment plans.” Once a new patient is eligible for treatment following a virtual visit, an in-person appointment is scheduled for scans and other physical exams to finalize the treatment plan.

Telemedicine2 has been part of the patient experience since opening in 2006, with telephone consultations, the patient portal VTOC – the secure electronic medical file for patients to access lab results, imaging scans and email messages with the clinical team – and some clinical trial follow-ups via telephone. Beyond safety considerations with the coronavirus, the virtual visit provides a new level of convenience for patients who are from out-of-town.

Telemedicine consults can be scheduled through the patient intake department by calling 904-588-1800. Once an appointment is scheduled an administrative assistant will contact the patient to help set up the software, if needed, test the device, and provide further instructions.


1https://www.hcinnovationgroup.com/covid-19/news/21135528/telehealth-visits-surging-due-to-covid19-survey-of-physicians-finds , retrieved April 27, 2020

2https://www.cancer.org/treatment/finding-and-paying-for-treatment/choosing-your-treatment-team/telemedicine-telehealth.html, retrieved April 27, 2020

Talking to Your Child or Teen about COVID-19

Talking to your child about COVID-19

It’s important to have an open, honest conversation with your child about the coronavirus to help support their needs and understanding during this stressful time. No matter the age of your child, determining what your child already knows will help you to gain insight into how they are interpreting what is happening around them. It can be difficult to know how to answer your child’s questions and what information to share with them, so here are some tips on how to talk with your child about COVID-19.

For the Preschool-Age Child (3-5 years old)

A preschool-age child’s developmental understanding of illness is vague, simplistic, and magical (belief that one’s own thoughts, wishes or desires can influence the external world). Children in this age group are typically able to understand that if someone is sick, they might have a cough/not feel good and need to go to the doctor. Simple explanations such as, “we have to stay at home so we don’t get sick,” to explain why your child’s daily routine has changed are typically sufficient. This age group often believes that an illness or change in routine are punishment; it is important to reassure your child that they did not cause coronavirus and they are not being punished as events are canceled.

For the School-Age Child (6-11 years old)

The typical school-age child is able to comprehend external causes of illness and needs specific, detailed information about the illness to meet their developmental needs. This age group typically can comprehend an explanation along the lines of the following:

  • COVID-19 is a new type of virus that is making people sick, it might cause someone to have a cough, fever, or body aches.
  • A virus is so small that we cannot see it with our eyes; this is why washing your hands is very important, especially before eating or touching your face.
  • Right now, it’s important that we stay at home and not go to school, the playground, etc., to help us stay healthy.

It is important to let your child lead the conversation; the goal is to help alleviate your child’s worries or fears. Sometimes providing additional, unwanted information can create the opposite effect.

For Teens/Adolescents (12-18 years old)

Teenagers are typically able to understand and comprehend various causes of illnesses, prevention, and symptoms. This age group often feels “invincible,” so it’s key to remind your teen that it is still important to practice social distancing and good hand hygiene, despite their young age. Ask your teen what they know about COVID-19 and clear any misconceptions they might have heard/seen on social media or the internet. Being open and honest, while also validating your teen’s fears and worries is important for this age group.

Children and teens react, in part, on what they see from the adults around them. When parents and caregivers deal with COVID-19 calmly and confidently, they can provide the best support for their children. If parents seem overly worried, children’s anxiety may rise. Parents should reassure children that health officials are working hard to ensure that people throughout the country stay healthy.

There are many ways to support your child during this uncertain time. When sharing information, it’s important to provide facts without promoting a high level of stress, to remind children that adults are working to address this concern, and to give children actions they can take to protect themselves. Teaching children positive preventive measures, talking with them about their fears, and giving them a sense of some control over their risk of infection can help reduce anxiety.

By:
Jennifer Duncanson, MS, CCLS
Heather Oakley, LCSW, OSW-C

Patient Spotlight: Vito Grippo

A Life That Sparkles After Proton Therapy

Never did Vito and Suellen Grippo imagine that a loose gemstone in Suellen’s wedding ring would end up saving Vito’s life - twice. But, a chance encounter with a jeweler who was undergoing treatment for prostate cancer at UF Health Proton Therapy Institute did just that.

Vito Grippo
Vito and Suellen Grippo

Vito and Suellen live in Myrtle Beach, SC, but Vito had business interests on the east coast of Florida and the couple traveled there several times a year. During one of their visits, Suellen noticed the loose gemstone. “I called a local jeweler and asked if he could repair the ring,” Suellen recalled. “He told me that he could but that I would have to wait a while, as he was traveling more than two hours each way, each day, for prostate cancer treatment. I was surprised to hear that he was willing to travel so far, and asked him where he was being treated. He told me he was going to the proton therapy institute in Jacksonville that was run by UF.”

Suellen didn’t give the information much thought until Vito was diagnosed with prostate cancer in November of 2014. But the jeweler’s detail about proton therapy, along with anecdotal accounts from acquaintances who were also undergoing treatment at UF Health Proton Therapy Institute and other proton therapy centers quickly convinced the Grippos that they should investigate it for Vito’s treatment as well.

“My urologist wasn’t for it,” Vito says. “He said it was experimental, and wanted to treat me with a more standard approach. But, I wasn’t a candidate for robotic surgery for a number of reasons. When I talked to UF Health, they told me they could help.”

Vito had six weeks of proton therapy treatment and came through it with flying colors. The Grippos were surprised not only at how rapidly Vito was able to bounce back, but at the extraordinary support network evident at UF Health Proton Therapy Institute as well. “Everyone was amazing,” Suellen noted. “Not only the doctors, nurses and staff, but the other patients as well. You found yourself forming a support group that resulted in strong friendships. We still see many fellow patients, both at the reunions and socially.”

Vito and Suellen would need that support again, after Vito was diagnosed with head and neck cancer in 2017. The diagnosis was startling – a sudden lump in his neck and a sore throat had devastating consequences. Again, their family physician recommended radical treatment, including surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. Vito turned to UF Health Proton Therapy Institute for their opinion. “They told me I would have to have the surgery, there was no avoiding it,” Vito says. “And, this time the treatment was going to be much harder.”

Vito’s new cancer had affected his throat, voice box, and tongue. A neck dissection – a surgical procedure designed to remove most of the affected area – led doctors to warn Vito that he might never be able to speak normally again. And, the radiation therapy would affect his ability to salivate and swallow, which brought about dramatic weight loss. The effect of the therapy was cumulative, meaning that Vito felt his worst as treatment was ending.

Today, Vito Grippo is not only speaking and eating, he is thriving, thanks to daily workouts and an exceptional support system that includes Suellen and the entire team at UF Health Proton Therapy Institute. The Grippos remain deeply grateful for the treatment Vito received for both diagnoses, and decided that there was no more powerful way to express their thanks than to provide support in return. Their recent decision to leave their entire estate to UF Health Proton Therapy Institute will help ensure that the life-saving treatment offered here can continue. Vito explains their commitment to UF Health in simple but profound terms. “They saved my life,” he says. “There’s no better reason to give back than that.”

Fabric of Care

Cloth masks for COVID-19

In response to the coronavirus, the group gatherings, luncheons and hands-on art activities have been temporarily suspended, but the helping spirit and support is still going strong. For example, when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) updated its guidelines for wearing masks to include everyone, our artist-in-residence Pamela Gardener took out her scissors, needle, thread and fabric and started sewing. Others on staff and in the community joined in, and before long, there were enough cloth masks to supply every non-clinical employee and every patient with the protection they needed.

“Thank you to everyone who pitched in to help, and thank you to everyone for doing your part to protect yourselves and each other by wearing the cloth masks,” said Bradlee Robbert, director of operations at the UF Health Proton Therapy Institute.

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About This Newsletter

The Precision Newsletter is an electronic-only publication that is distributed by email. Each issue is sent monthly to patients, alumni patients and friends of the University of Florida Health Proton Therapy Institute. As the official newsletter of the Institute, the content is compiled and prepared by our communications representative and approved by the editor Stuart Klein, executive director of UF Health Proton Therapy Institute. Special bulletin newsletters may occasionally be prepared when timely topics and new developments in proton therapy occur. If you would like to send a Letter to the Editor, please click here.

 

Keep In Touch

It is easy to stay in touch with us online at floridaproton.org . Look at the top right corner of the homepage for Facebook , Twitter and YouTube icons, click and join us in the social media conversation. Also on the right side of the homepage there is a button for VTOC Patient Portal . Click here to open your secure account, view your records, complete clinical trial questionnaires and communicate with your nurse case manager.

 

Knowing how you are feeling during and after treatment is essential to providing you the best care possible and contributes to the care of future patients.