Cancer center celebrates two year anniversary

New sculptures, donation revealed at special event

REED CITY — Spectrum Health officials, employees and members of the community celebrated at a private gathering as Thursday marked the two-year anniversary of the Susan P. Wheatlake Regional Cancer Center in Reed City.

The $8.9 million center, which opened its doors in 2013, continues to offer technologically advanced treatment and wellness planning for patients fighting against cancer and other diseases. The center serves patients from more than 11 counties in Michigan. Numbers of those who receive treatment and the facility's services continue to grow.

"The center was built for the community to serve our cancer patients. We're celebrating the success we've had over the past two years and all the patients we've treated here over those two years," said Irene Balowski, director of cancer services. "We've done a lot since the opening. We have the state-of-the-art linear accelerator for the radiation therapy, but we've added so many programs — a lot of wellness center programs, integrative therapy and complimentary therapy, such as acupuncture, acupressure, reflexology, Gilda's Club for support groups, massage therapy and so many things that we're offering for patients as a complementary therapy to their treatment."

The reveal of two new metal sculptures proved to be another highlight of the evening. The pieces were donated by Gary and Lynn Trimarco and created over a two-year period by artist Robert Barnum and Ferris State University students Andrew Kandalec, Brook Moon, Alex Johnson, Kaleb Parsch and Steve Bajcer.

"It makes you feel good to be a part of this," Parsch said. "It's inspirational for people here."

The artwork is on display at the center grounds, ready to be incorporated with additional landscaping including a wellness path and resting areas. The larger sculpture, named "Touch the Sky," features trees near the base displaying the words courage, believe, focus, strong, faith and heal. The second sculpture is a smaller reflection of the first, located near the center's entrance.

The Trimarcos said they are pleased to be a part of such an important project.

"We wanted it to first of all be something lasting, and second of all be something that would help the patients on the path to healing," said Gary. "It was a no-brainer to be involved."

Lynn agrees, adding her affection for Susan P. Wheatlake and her mission.

"Susan is an unbelievable role model," she said. "She is such a champion to be able to make a good thing out of a bad thing."

Wheatlake herself discussed the joy she felt during the celebration and what the sculpture represents for patients receiving treatment at the facility.

"It's a wonderful day and what an occasion to be able to celebrate," she said. "When you're going through cancer and you're on this journey and you don't know how it's going to turn out for you, you pray, you hope, you believe and all the words listing at the bottom of the statue tell you what patients think and how they feel when going through the journey. You can call it the tree of life at the bottom, that we're a part of it as a patient going through this, and what you want to do is reach up and be free of all the pain and agony you've gone through, all the sorrows, the sadness, push them aside and say, 'I did it, I believe, I'm moving forward with life and I'm well again.' That's the way I look at it."

The event also paid tribute to donors who helped make the facility one of the leading care centers in the state, including Don Beach, owner of of D Bar D Ranch in Chase. Beach organizes the annual Ride for a Cure event, which benefits the cancer center, and this year helped raise more than $25,000. Beach, along with additional event supporters, presented a check to Susan P. Wheatlake Regional Cancer Center officials.

Balowski believes the cancer center couldn't be what it is without its dedicated doctors, nurses and support staff.

"The staff and the physicians and the community have been such a huge part of the success here," she said. "We're filled with pride with what we can do and it makes us feel good that patients are coming from 13 counties to be treated. The numbers we're treating are really incredible, more than we ever imagined since the opening."

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