“At the end of May 2018, I was diagnosed with HER2+ breast cancer,” recalls Shannon Schroeder. “My doctor referred me to MD Anderson.”
However, when she called MD Anderson in the Texas Medical Center to make an appointment, she learned the first available opening was a month away.
“I have three small kids. I couldn’t wait a month to begin treatment.”
Schroeder didn’t have to wait. She was able to schedule an appointment for five days later at MD Anderson League City, one of the cancer center’s many locations throughout the Greater Houston Area.
After her care team ran tests to determine the best treatment course, Schroeder began six months of chemotherapy to shrink the tumors in her left breast and in her lymph nodes. Thanksgiving 2018 marked the completion of step one in her treatment plan.
“I’m thankful that I never felt nauseated. My kids never saw me get really ill, just tired and sleeping a lot,” Schroeder says.
Step two was surgery this January, followed by six to 12 weeks of radiation treatment. An upcoming reconstruction surgery will complete the process.
Located in a new four-story, 200,000-square-foot facility, MD Anderson League City is home to a first-of-its-kind clinical collaboration with The University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB Health). The partnership between the two University of Texas health organizations provides more convenient local access to specialized, multidisciplinary cancer diagnostics and care, as well as routine check-ups, cancer screenings and survivor follow-ups for residents in and around the growing region.
For Schroeder, that convenience stretches to the East Texas town of Kountze, where she lives.
“Even though League City is about the same distance from me as the Texas Medical Center, it is so much easier to go to League City,” she says. “There’s much less traffic, and I don’t have to deal with finding and paying for parking in Houston.”
Those factors and her care team’s dedication to her care and quality of life helped make it possible for Schroeder to continue working throughout her chemotherapy. For example, she says her nurse navigator, Diana Vasquez, was instrumental in helping schedule appointments so that no time was wasted during her visits.
Feels like family
“I feel like my doctors and nurses are family,” Schroeder says. “I can talk to them about anything, and I know that they’ll listen to what I have to say. My nurses even come to find me during my 5-hour chemotherapy sessions to chat and help me pass the time.”
Schroeder adds that the design of the new facility itself helps amplify the staff’s positivity. Floor-to-ceiling windows allow natural light to fill the lobby, and the employees seem to carry that sunshine throughout the building, she says.
“Cancer treatment can be so stressful, so we try to make it easier by making it local and surrounding patients with familiar faces,” says Jenni Hess, Schroeder’s nurse practitioner. “Shannon and I have normal conversations beyond diagnoses and treatments. We talk about her kids, family, and job, and I think this helps her know that I see her as an individual, not as a patient number or statistic.”
Houston-area locations expand
MD Anderson services are offered around the Houston area, from a surgical clinic in Memorial City to breast imaging and diagnostic services at selected Memorial Hermann locations.
Four locations — League City, Katy, The Woodlands and Sugar Land — offer the institution’s renowned multidisciplinary care as well as a range of supportive services and access to clinical trials. Currently, about 15 percent of new patients start their care at one of these locations.
To meet the growing demand for comprehensive, conveniently located care, MD Anderson is expanding the size of its facilities and the services provided at these four locations.
The first permanent facility formally opened this past fall in League City. It’s five times the size of the Bay Area location it replaced and features expanded services, including medical oncology, radiation oncology, surgical oncology, diagnostic pathology/labs, pharmacy, infusion therapy, multidisciplinary clinics, pain management, nutrition and social work. New services at the League City location include a full complement of radiology services such as mammography, CT, combined PET/CT, MRI and other technologies.
A colorful piece of art created by San Antonio artist Constance Lowe is displayed where the UTMB Health and MD Anderson buildings intersect. The piece represents the spirit of integration and collaboration at the heart of the partnership.
A new, greatly expanded West Houston facility will replace the Katy location this year. Replacements for The Woodlands and Sugar Land locations are in the works.
The new buildings will share a look and feel — both inside and out — that's very different from the TMC Campus. On the practical side, the building layouts are designed to improve patient flow and minimize wait times.
Each floor has a similar layout to make it easier for patients to find their way. All points of entry are centered on the lobby, which stretches the entire length of the building, and patients can access every clinical area from that space.