It’s rare for a small, community-based hospital to offer all of the sophisticated medical services typically found in a big-city cancer center, but that’s exactly what is available at the NorthBay Cancer Center, according to Lori Muir, director of Oncology Services for NorthBay Healthcare.
“There isn’t a single kind of cancer that we can’t treat here. We have every- thing we need: expertly trained and highly respected physicians, the latest in diagnostic equipment and treatment options, and a support staff that includes nurse navigators and accredited oncology nurses, a dietician, social worker and genetic counselor.”
And, since the NorthBay Cancer Center is located in Solano County, “our patients and their families don’t have to travel very far to receive this world-class care.”
At the center of it all are the Cancer Center’s six hematology and radiation oncologists, half of whom obtained their training through military service. “Military physicians are battle-tested, not only on the field, but in emergencies, in public health crises, during natural disasters and conflicts,” Lori observed. “Now, our team is going to battle every day for our patients.”
Hope for Healing
A self-avowed “math nerd,” James Long, M.D., was initially focused on a major in physics at the University of Texas when he realized he didn’t want to spend his life in a lab. And, later, when his father suffered from heart disease and a stroke, the idea of helping others became further cemented in his mind.
After receiving his medical degree, Dr. Long did a residency in internal medicine at Wilford Hall Medical Center at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio. He was interested in cardiology when he had an epiphany.
“After seeing patient after patient suffering from chest pains in the ICU, and then suggesting one after another that they stop smoking and lower their cholesterol, I realized I wanted something more.”
A fellowship training in hematology and medical oncology came next, in a combined program between the Air Force and the University of Texas. He was transferred to David Grant U.S. Air Force Medical Center in 1990.
Oncology and hematology allowed him to deal with virtually every organ in the body. It offered the hope of an actual cure for some diseases and active research for all the others, he said.
“Hope keeps patients going and it keeps me going. There is a lot of cancer research going on and it’s being widely, A trio of oncologists at NorthBay Cancer Center share a background of training and service in the Air Force. They are: Jessica Powers, M.D., James Long, M.D., back row left, and Jonathan Lopez, M.D. shared. Consistent guidelines for treatment have been developed and are being constantly updated.”
Today, Dr. Long serves as medical director of the NorthBay Cancer Center. Not only does he treat patients with cancer, but those suffering from blood issues, ranging from acute leukemia to blood clots. All receive his undivided attention, as part of his personal philosophy. “I’m interested and willing to spend time answering questions my patients might have. I want them to feel trust in the deci- sions we make and to know that they are part of the team.”
Honing a Skill for Compassion
Jonathan Lopez, M.D., hematologist/ oncologist with the NorthBay Cancer Center, made a simple choice when pursing his career: Enlist in the U.S. Air Force and get educated.
His first job was as a pharmacy technician, but then he elected to go through medical school at the Uni- formed Services University of Health Services in Bethesda, Maryland. His intention was to become a primary care physician but all that changed during his six-week rotation in hematology/ oncology. An encounter with a patient opened his eyes to the significance of compassion and communication.
The patient was not interested in talking to a medical student. “She said she would just have to repeat every- thing to the doctor, so she sat with arms crossed and wanted no part of me,” he recalled. “I saw in her chart that she had declined chemotherapy which was curious to me since and her breast cancer was advanced. So, we started chatting about little things while we waited.”
As she became more comfortable, the patient allowed Dr. Lopez to listen to her heart and lungs and to ask a few medical questions. He noticed that she had a prosthetic leg and on it was a band aid. When queried, the patient told him her mischievous grandchildren had scuffed it up, so she put a band aid on it to prevent the scuff from snagging her pantyhose.
Now appearing more relaxed, Dr. Lopez asked her why she refused chemotherapy. She said she did want it, but was caring for her grandchildren and had no way to get to the treat- ments. “Her prior medical team only heard that she declined the treatment and had failed to consider her social situation. I’ll never forget her.”
Dr. Lopez suggested she could get chemotherapy as an inpatient, and she agreed to the treatment. “The military taught me to be efficient and on time with my patients,” he says, but it also taught him the intrinsic value of compassion. “I strive to give my patients the support they need as we battle their illness together.”
Eyes Forward to Future Goals
Jessica Powers, M.D., hematologist/ oncologist for NorthBay Cancer Center, knew from an early age that she wanted to be a physician. So, she joined the Air Force’s Reserved Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) when she enrolled at the University of Virginia.
ROTC cadets agree to a four-year active duty assignment in exchange for having college paid for. After graduating from medical school, she was promoted to captain and did her residency in internal medicine and then a three-year fellowship in hematology and medical oncology at Wilford Hall Medical Center at Lack- land Air Force Base in San Antonio.
She was drawn to oncology in part because of her physician mentors, Dr. Powers pauses to share a moment with a favorite patient she was treating in 2016 at David Grant Medical Center. but also because of the patients. “Oncology patients are special. They are full of hope and gratitude, which I find very inspiring. Being an oncologist and seeing first-hand the struggles my patients face gives me a unique perspective about life. I try not to take anything for granted.”
Being in the military also taught her perseverance, flexibility and patience. “I learned to keep looking for a Plan B. If the solution wasn’t in front of me, I’d work to create one. I still use those values today to fight hard for my patients.”
Dr. Powers spent 14 years in active duty, and came to the NorthBay Cancer Center in 2017. “I grew up in a small town with small-town values of caring for your neighbor, giving back to your community and doing the right thing. NorthBay values are exactly the same. I enjoy being part of an organization full of people who respect each other, work hard to take care of patients and enjoy coming to work every day.”