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Toby's Take: We Are Comprehensive

National Cancer Institute Comprehensive Cancer Center badge

January 03, 2023

As I was saying …

Let’s pick up right where we left off, shall we? Here’s hoping you enjoyed a safe and fun holiday season. Happy New Year!

My final blog of 2022 reviewed some of the great strides The University of Kansas Health System made in the last 12 months. Not the least of which are the new Proton Therapy Center and the completion of the top 3 floors of Cambridge Tower A, both on our campus at 39th and Rainbow in Kansas City.

The highlight of ’22 will most certainly echo into the next several decades and save thousands of lives. That’s a great place to pick up.

Big news in town

The University of Kansas Cancer is officially a National Cancer Institute (NCI)-designated comprehensive cancer center.

We’ve been explaining what that means to patients at the health system since the big announcement last summer. There’s nothing bigger than advances in cancer care, but there seems to be an equally exciting vibe spreading through Kansas City and the Midwest on the heels of the announcement.

You see, 2023 is setting up to be a historic year for KC. The new KCI terminal opens, then the NFL Draft takes place here. We’ll learn more details about the Royals’ hopes to build a stadium downtown. Real and visible plans will start coming together for the 2026 World Cup. What’s crazy, and wonderful, is NCI comprehensive designation is being talked about in the same breath. And humbly, that’s spot on.

“I very much appreciate that we have been included in that larger conversation,” Roy Jensen, MD, vice chancellor and director of The University of Kansas Cancer Center, told me going into the holiday break. “We have an opportunity to leverage comprehensive status to something even more.”

That was always the hope, the vision and the plan. It’s starting to come to fruition, sure, with the actual designation. Point of fact, it had already started.

Comprehensive expertise

Dr. Jensen said the cancer center is knee-deep in clinical trials already yielding phenomenal results.

“We essentially have access to every single early-phase clinical trial that the NCI is working on,” he said.

The cancer center continues to hire the best and brightest for the team. Certainly not wanting to leave anyone out, he did call out Julia White, MD, a breast radiation oncologist who came to Kansas City from The Ohio State University this past fall.

Side note: She might be a fan of the Buckeyes, who nearly upended Georgia’s run at a national title in the Peach Bowl, and she had to be impressed that the Kansas Jayhawks almost completed an eye-popping, triple-overtime comebacker against Arkansas in the Liberty Bowl.

After that sports break, we can also point out Dr. White is internationally known for her research and treatment. Or, as Dr. Jensen put it, she’s been privy to, or involved in, practically every breast cancer radiation oncology advancement in recent years. Oh, and she’s also an expert in proton therapy, meaning those thousands of patients with cancer who come to our main Kansas City campus for that reason alone will benefit from her expertise.

I very much appreciate that we have been included in that larger conversation. We have an opportunity to leverage comprehensive status to something even more. Roy Jensen, MD

Vice Chancellor and Director, The University of Kansas Cancer Center

Promising research, lifesaving care

The millions of dollars in research money, the promise of lives saved … how about the region’s reputation as the epicenter of world-class cancer research and healthcare in the Midwest? All this is to say that the comprehensive designation ranks right up there with anything else happening in the city once dubbed “The Paris of the Plains.”

Let me put it another way, like a conversation I might have with a friend:

Me: “I’m from Kansas City. You know we’re one of the host sites for the World Cup, right?”

Friend: “I can see why. Don’t you all treat cancer like nobody’s business?”

Fine. It won’t go like that. But it could. That’s how big a deal this is and not far from the original dream.

“That is, to become a true NCI-designated comprehensive cancer center that serves the middle of the country,” Dr. Jensen said. “Most of the places you typically think about when it comes to destination places – they’re all on the coasts. I think there is a real opportunity for us to be a part of that conversation as a destination place for much of the center of the country.”

This is not just a PR guy saying this. I’ve sat in rooms more than once where influencers and leaders who are not affiliated with the health system speak in these terms. This comes from true excitement that saving lives will be as much a part of the new Kansas City renaissance as sports teams and airport terminals.

“You can never lose sight of that whole foundation of who we’re treating,” Dr. Jensen said.

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