Health

Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center opens in central Nassau

Posted

Thirty-nine-year-old Stacy Miranda is an ice climber — that is, she scales cliff faces coated in ice, ax in hand. She does so as a member of Climb for Hope, a nonprofit organization that raises funds to support research into development of a vaccine for breast cancer and multiple sclerosis.

Miranda, of Long Beach, joined the group after enduring her own battle with an aggressive form of breast cancer, which she beat. She was diagnosed at age 34. Cancer, said the North Shore Middle School teacher, shaped the explorer she has become.

Miranda was among the keynote speakers at an emotional ribbon-cutting ceremony on April 4 to open the new Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center on Hempstead Turnpike in Uniondale, called MSK Nassau. The $180 million, 114,000-square-foot facility houses departments of radiation testing and treatment, chemotherapy, rehabilitation and social work, offering nearly the complete spectrum of cancer treatment services, except surgery. All surgeries will continue to be performed at MSK’s Manhattan center.

MSK’s Rockville Centre treatment center, a significantly smaller facility, closed on the afternoon of April 5. The Uniondale center, located in the southwest corner of the Nassau Coliseum’s parking lot, opened on Monday at 8 a.m.

Miranda was treated by MSK and attributes her survival to the doctors and nurses of this world-renowned cancer center, whose main facility is located in Manhattan, with satellite offices in Nassau, Suffolk and Westchester counties, and New Jersey.

In particular, Miranda cited the work of her oncologist, Dr. Pamela Drullinsky, medical site director of MSK’s Regional Care Network. “I did put my faith in her,” Miranda said, “and she saved my life.”

Throughout her treatment and beyond, Miranda said, MSK’s doctors and nurses provided constant comfort. “It’s that human connection that decreases my anxiety about being a cancer patient,” she said.

Miranda knows all too well the excruciating pain, the nausea, the utter exhaustion that comes with cancer treatment. She was “barely able to walk” during treatment, she said. She endured three surgeries —the first on the week of her 35th birthday. 

When Miranda got well, she was determined to find a new way of living, and so she became an adventure traveler, as she put it. She tried white water rafting and rock climbing before ice climbing. She is planning a trip to walk the Grand Canyon from rim to rim in a day. It’s 25 miles across.

Hempstead Town Supervisor Laura Gillen was among the many elected leaders who turned out for the new treatment center’s grand-opening ceremony, and followed Miranda at the lectern. Gillen spoke of her mother-in-law, who was treated by MSK. Speaking to members of the MSK staff, Gillen said, “I know the magic and comfort you gave not only to the patient, but to the families. We’re so thankful for the amazing work you do.”

Nassau County Executive Laura Curran thanked MSK officials for “investing in Nassau County,” noting that the treatment center is bringing nearly 200 jobs to central Nassau, where plans are now in the works to transform the coliseum parking lot into a mixed-use community of business and housing, with biotech centers like MSK’s as the anchors.

“I think MSK is one of the cool kids,” Curran joked. “You’re the trendsetter.”

The center was deliberately located in the Hub, which is centrally located in Nassau, so patients from throughout the county need not travel far for treatment, officials said. Twenty percent of MSK patients treated in Manhattan are Long Islanders, and one MSK official after another noted how difficult the trek from the Island into New York City can be for cancer patients who are barely able to pull themselves out of bed in the morning. The center, officials said, is about preserving quality of life and dignity for the patient.

Dr. Craig Thompson, MSK’s president and chief executive officer, said the center will “ease the burden of people undergoing cancer care” and is intended to provide a “friendly, helping hand as they move forward in their cancer care.”

Dr. Lisa DeAngelis, MSK’s acting physician-in-chief, noted that improvements in cancer care have led to a 25 percent decrease in cancer deaths since 1991, but more work is to be done. In 2018, Nassau had 8,000 newly diagnosed cancer cases, she said.

Cancer, she explained, is not a single disease, but rather a complex web of 400 diseases, each of which has its “own biology,” and each of which is “relentless.”