Living Well

Custom-fit cancer care close to home

Shannon Norman, Radiation Therapist
Custom-fit cancer care close to home

West Jefferson Medical Center is recognized for its radiation oncology specialty

According to the latest American Cancer Society statistic, nearly 28,000 new cancer cases will be diagnosed this year in Louisiana, with many of those cases occurring in our community. As anyone with cancer knows, a diagnosis is shocking and often leaves patients scrambling to find the best treatment care. For years, many people went out of state, but now those on the Westbank can stay close to home and receive some of the most specialized care when it comes to cancer.

Radiation oncology is a specialty within the hospital’s Cancer Care program

Unless you are diagnosed with cancer or care for someone with cancer, you probably have little contact with a radiation oncologist, a doctor who specializes in the advanced use of ionizing radiation that kills cancer cells. West Jefferson Medical Center (West Jefferson) is proud to have two such specialists on staff, Drs. Raymond Gould and Rachael Harmon.

During radiation treatment, Drs. Gould and Harmon, and our Dosimetry team and physicist use sophisticated equipment to create individual treatment plans. Skilled radiation therapists then position patients on the treatment machine to deliver the prescribed dose. Radiation therapy is meant to damage the cancer cells with the goal of destroying the cell’s ability to grow and divide, thus either eliminating cancer or slowing its progress. Radiation treatment can be done at different times during a cancer diagnosis, such as:

  • Before surgery to shrink a tumor
  • After surgery to interfere with the growth of any remaining cancer cells
  • Used in combination with chemotherapy to destroy cancer cells
  • Used in patients with advanced cancer to alleviate associated symptoms

Regardless of when it’s used, patients may experience some side effects, though many are temporary and can be controlled. Side effects will vary depending on what part of the body is treated with the radiation, but some effects include:

  • Head and neck radiation can lead to dry mouth, difficulty swallowing, sore throat, nausea, and in some cases, hair loss.
  • Chest radiation can cause difficulty swallowing, cough, or shortness of breath.
  • Abdomen radiation can lead to nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea.
  • Pelvis area can lead to bladder irritation, frequent urination and diarrhea.

Radiation can also lead to skin irritation and fatigue, but again, most of these side effects can be managed and do subside once treatment is stopped.

Staying close to home is important to patients undergoing radiation treatment

West Jefferson not only offers extensive Cancer Care services, but it is the only medical facility on the Westbank providing radiation therapy, which is one of the most common treatments for cancer.

Joaquin Zito is a Westbank resident, and when he was diagnosed with prostate cancer, his doctor, who is not in the LCMC Health network, which includes West Jefferson Medical Center (West Jefferson), ordered 42 rounds of radiation as part of his treatment. Zito was prepared to undergo the treatment, but there was one thing he would not do. As he explains, “I was not going to cross the river to get my treatments; it’s just not convenient.”

Convenience was not so much the issue for Julie Murray; instead, it was excellence in care. Murray is undergoing numerous rounds of radiation for Pancreatic adenocarcinoma. Like Zito, her oncologist is out of the LCMC Health network, but he never hesitated when he recommended that she receive her radiation treatment at West Jefferson. “Getting the diagnosis was devastating, but I was encouraged when my doctor told me that I would receive the best of the best at West Jefferson, and he was right,” notes Murray.

The American College of Radiology (ACR) awarded a three-year accreditation for West Jefferson’s radiation oncology services, representing the highest level of quality and patient safety, and both Zito and Murray can attest to that excellence. “The staff is unbelievable. They are always looking for ways to help and make me feel as comfortable as possible,” says Zito, who adds, “Whatever question I have, they answer. They treated me like family, and if I ever have to do radiation again, there is only one place I would go, West Jeff.”

“The entire office staff participates in your healing as they are very personable, and that makes a huge difference,” comments Murray, who says her optimistic outlook is a credit to the staff and doctors. “Cancer completely changes your life, not 100 percent, but 150 percent. Having such a supportive and compassionate team at the hospital makes this journey easier, and I am grateful for that.”


About Shannon Norman, Radiation Therapist
Shannon Norman has been a Radiation Therapist at West Jefferson Medical Center since 2013. She graduated from Our Lady of Holy Cross College with a Bachelor of Science with a concentration in Radiologic Technology. She then obtained an Associate degree and a certificate in Radiation Therapy from Delgado Community College. She is a registered Therapist with the American Registry for Radiologic Technologists and the Louisiana State Radiologic Technologist board of examiners.