Duke Cancer Institute Notes
Published: Apr. 13, 2012
Updated: Apr. 13, 2012
Anna Watson Blair finds much to like during her first visit to the new building
Over the course of four days in December 2011, Anna Watson Blair’s life was turned upside down. Just a week after Thanksgiving, the nurse and single mother of three started feeling dizzy and off-balance.
In early December, she had a car accident and knew something wasn’t right, so she made an appointment with her family physician for the following morning. The doctor was concerned, and arranged an immediate MRI.
Just five hours later, on December 2, Blair was back in her doctor’s office, where she received the harrowing news: she had a brain tumor. “My doctor gave me a choice but recommended I go to Duke,” Blair recalls of that overwhelming day. “I wanted to go to Duke, too.”
Friends helped make arrangements, and by Saturday, Blair was admitted to Duke University Hospital for surgery to remove the tumor. On Monday morning, Allan Friedman, MD, co-deputy director of the Preston Robert Tisch Brain Tumor Center, removed the brain tumor.
“I was very confident I was in the right place,” she says. “Duke has a lot of resources to help me cope with my situation.”
After a week at Duke, Blair moved to Durham Regional Hospital (part of Duke University Health System) for rehabilitation, where she spent hours each day working with physical, occupational, and speech therapists. She made excellent progress, and just before Christmas moved back home where she received support from her “village of care” composed of her sister, brothers, parents, nieces, and friends.
After surgery, Blair underwent daily radiation treatment for six weeks under the direction of radiation oncologist John Kirkpatrick, MD, PhD. She is also taking part in a novel phase I trial that is studying the combination of radiation, the FDA-approved drug temozolomide, and an experimental drug, under the direction of neuro-oncologist Annick Desjardins, MD.
“We believe in a multi-disciplinary approach to care,” explains Kirkpatrick, “with the surgeon, neuro-oncologist, radiation oncologist, and many other specialists working together to develop and implement the best treatment for each individual patient.”
As the new Duke Cancer Center opened, Blair was still making regular visits to see Desjardins and Kirkpatrick to monitor her condition and determine what, if any, additional treatment will be needed.
Blair’s first visit to the new Cancer Center came on February 29, two days after the new building officially opened to patients.
She arrived accompanied by her friend Fiona Strachan, who came from Australia to help her during her treatment and recovery. Their first stop was for laboratory tests and a medical check-in. As she sat in the lab’s spacious waiting area, Blair talked about the new facility.
“I like the continuity, and how much the architecture is gorgeous. It is clear that a lot of thought went into the building’s design.”
Lab work complete, Blair took the elevator to Clinic 3-1: The Preston Robert Tisch Brain Tumor Center. The distance between the clinics and labs is much shorter in the new building, she noted. On the third floor, Blair was welcomed by several staff members, who explained that -- thanks to the pager she was given when she first registered at the lab -- she could actually check in for her clinic appointment using a nearby kiosk, and then relax in the Café, Resource Center, or anywhere else in the building until the clinic paged her.
Blair and Strachan had a cup of tea provided by a volunteer and enjoyed the view of the courtyard that is now under construction in front of the building until she was paged for her appointment.
“This is so nice,” Blair laughed as she entered the exam room. “The windows in the room are wonderful. It’s a gorgeous view.”
After her appointment, Blair and Strachan stopped by the Resource Center to borrow a meditation CD and picked up a new scarf at the Belk Boutique, which are located on the main floor across from the Quiet Room.
“I have never heard of a quiet room in a cancer center,” she says. “It provides a good feeling during such an overwhelming time. I’ll definitely spend time here again.” She was also touched by the quotes on the tiled Healing Path found on Level 00 and visible from all floors.
Just as Blair talks about the “village” of friends and family that have provided support for her, Henry S. Friedman, MD, co-deputy director of the Preston Robert Tisch Brain Tumor Center at Duke, sees the new Cancer Center as one that fosters the “village” needed to fight cancer.
“This facility brings together all of the resources of Duke under one roof and improves our ability to collaborate with one another to ensure we provide the very best care for our patients,” he says. “This is a major advance for both the health care teams and our patients who battle cancer on a daily basis.”
For Blair, the building offers a warm and comfort- able place to come for check-ups, but it’s the people inside the building who really make the difference.
“I am so impressed with Duke employees and the level of genuine commitment they have for patients. Everyone is so thoughtful and caring.”
Feeling stronger every day, Blair walks daily and plans to participate in the Brain Tumor Center’s annual fundraising event, the Angels Among Us 5K and Family Fun Walk, on April 28 with her team, Anna Blair’s Flairs.
“I have been blessed every step of the way. I feel like I’m in such good hands at Duke and with my family and friends, and all that has really empowered me to be optimistic about beating this.”