- Associated Press - Saturday, November 1, 2014

WATERFORD, Conn. (AP) - Just knowing that patients undergoing chemotherapy treatments at the Lawrence + Memorial Hospital Cancer Center can look out onto a waterfall and woods, purple asters and yew trees planted around circular stone paths, is all the reward the Falcones need.

“People, when they’re in the infusion rooms or getting radiation, can feel such fear, but look out and see hope,” said Linda Falcone, who donated $500,000 with her husband, Jim, to build the new Therapeutic Healing Garden. “It’s to give hope that will inspire people to believe that they can make it. This is really from the heart.”

On Thursday, the Falcones, of Groton Long Point, celebrated the opening of the one-acre garden designed by Kent + Frost Landscape Architecture, at a ceremony that also marked the one-year anniversary of the cancer center. Linda Falcone, 67, said she and her husband decided a year ago on her birthday to make the donation out of gratitude for her own experience overcoming lung cancer and breast cancer, and to honor their son Jayson, who died of cancer four months ago at age 37.

“This is not just for patients, but also for employees who need to be re-energized and families who need hope and a setting for reflection, peace and serenity,” she said.

Jim Falcone said that while their donation paid for the creation of the garden, more funds are needed to pay for maintenance and other enhancements. People in the community will have the opportunity to make donations in honor of a loved one who can be named on bricks, benches or boulders that line the paths.

He said he wants the new garden to bring attention to the cancer center, helping the community recognize the new resource in their backyard. His wife received her care 12 years ago at the Dana-Farber Institute in Boston, which is now affiliated with the L+M center, and Dr. Richard Hellman, the medical director of the center, is her oncologist.

“We want to make people in this area aware that they don’t have to go to New Haven or Boston, but can get care right here in Waterford,” he said.

From its opening on Oct. 1, 2013, through Aug. 30, 7,000 patients have come to the cancer center for infusion appointments, and 10,000 patients have met with oncologists there. There have also been 11,099 appointments for radiation oncology. The $30 million center is being paid for with donations, which thus far total $20 million.

But the numbers tell only part of the story, said Hellman and Mary Ann Nash, administrative manager of the center. Over the past year, the center has added genetic counseling services and clinical trials for new cancer treatments, and a second opinion clinic is slated to open soon.

“We’ve met all our milestones,” Nash said.

Hellman said participating in clinical trials is a “major feature” of the center, giving patients and doctors the chance to be part of important research. In the first trial offered at the center, newly diagnosed breast cancer patients are being offered an alternative drug therapy. Patients with colon cancer are being recruited for the second trial, Hellman said.

“We do see clinical research as one of the cornerstones of our mission,” he said. Having the trials, he added, is motivating both for doctors and nurses at the center as well as patients, giving them the satisfaction of making a contribution to advancing care.

“When you’ve done a trial that’s been successful, there’s nothing more exciting than seeing the results published,” he said.

The genetic counselor, Claire Healy, is at the center one day per month so far, and most appointments have been filled. There are plans to increase her availability, as more patients with breast, colon and other types of cancers, he said, are seeking to tests to determine whether they have a genetic mutation that gives them higher susceptibility to certain cancers, and to encourage their families to do the same.

“It can have an impact on their care,” Hellman said.

Edmund Julius of Stonington, a survivor of colon and prostate cancer, recently had a genetic test at the cancer center, as did his two grown children. Both he and one of his children learned they have the gene for Lynch syndrome, which gives them higher probability of getting colon cancer and other gastrointestinal cancers.

“It’s a potential life saver,” he said, which will prompt them both to have more frequent colonoscopies and other tests.

Hellman said most of the patients coming to the center have the most common types of cancer - breast, prostate, colon and lung cancer. But the center also treats rarer cancers, using its affiliation with Dana-Farber and Yale-New Haven hospitals to tap into experts.

“We have in fact been seeing many people who would have otherwise gone to Boston,” he said.

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