Cancer Care center holds open house

LAWRENCEVILLE - Accented by modern art and vibrant, colorful walls - and yes, that unmistakable "new" building smell - a visitor could be excused for likening the new Georgia Center for Total Cancer Care to the offices of a fancy advertising agency or news magazine.

The stylish surroundings, however, are just one of the many elements intended to make life a little easier for people living with cancer. After all, living with cancer is tough enough: the refurbished facility was conceived on tenets of convenience.

Opened for about a month on Ga. Highway 120 near the Ga. Highway 316 interchange, the Georgia Center for Total Cancer Care houses Georgia Cancer Specialists in a newly built second level while Atlanta Oncology Associates, the building's preexisting outfit, remains on the ground floor. Patients can now receive virtually all forms of treatment - radiation downstairs and chemotherapy upstairs - get blood work, obtain prescribed medications and talk to a social worker while occupying one parking space. It also helps having a neighbor in the business: Gwinnett Medical Center.

"We have the opportunity for patients to come to one spot here," said Dr. Craig Wilkinson, a radiation oncologist with Atlanta Oncology Associates. "They don't have to race all over the city. They don't have to go down to Emory and get [chemotherapy] and then come back here. They can do it all here."

The all-in-one shop also allows doctors from both cancer practices to easily communicate about patients, many of whom they share.

"It's common for me to see a patient and then Dr. Wilkinson to see a patient and we can talk face to face about what's going on that day with them, which is pretty huge," said Dr. James Hamrick, a medical oncologist with Georgia Cancer Specialists. "You would think information exchange would be really easy by 2008, but it's notoriously bad."

A year of architectural ingenuity and several million dollars went in to revamping the original building - built in the early '80s - as the second floor was erected for Georgia Cancer Specialists. Because the pre-existing building could not support a second floor by ordinary means, engineers used support beams as a makeshift bridge that serves as the new addition's foundation.