Sharon Whaley wrote a thank-you note on the walls of what will be a new City of Hope Cancer Center in Irvine.
"Thank you City of Hope for saving my life."
Two years ago, Whaley says her doctor removed eight tumors from her abdomen. She had to make multiple trips to the main hospital in Duarte, but was able to receive her chemo treatments at City of Hope in Newport Beach — the first phase of this OC expansion.
"That made a huge difference because you really don’t feel that great," Whaley said.
That's exactly why walking around what will eventually be the Lennar Foundation Cancer Center felt like a true treat for her. It’s situated on 11 acres at Five Point’s Great Park in Irvine.
"I was real excited to see this going in. It’s 1.3 miles from my house, and I plan on spending a lot of time here in the future volunteering," Whaley said.
"We are, I believe, the first cancer center in the U.S. to create a second campus and that’s how we refer to this," said Annette Walker, president of City of Hope OC.
"This is where our procedure rooms and the outpatient surgery center are going to be," she said, as she pointed to the rooms under construction.
Walker was hired three years ago to lead the $1 billion expansion project, which will eventually include a hospital on-site.
"We had raised all our kids here. I knew what an important contribution it was going to be to Orange County. That’s what drew me to it," she said.
Walker says about 20% of the people diagnosed with cancer in the OC find the need to leave the community for advanced cancer care and research.
"We had about 3,000 patients a year who were traveling to Duarte for services. That is a significant burden on cancer patients and their families," she said. "Bringing the depth that Duarte has in cancer care and research and being able to put it on the ground in Orange County, it’s going to be life changing for this community."
Walker added that people have actually stopped her on the street to thank her for her efforts.
City of Hope says it made sure to get as much input as possible from multicultural community groups and patient advocates.
"We had cardboard cutouts of all the structures and we had people walking through to see in 3D what it would look like, how it would feel," said Dr. Edward S. Kim, physician-in-chief at City of Hope OC.
The center not only tested the aesthetics, but also seats in the waiting room.
"We asked them, 'Do you like this chair? Would you feel comfortable sitting in this chair for three or four hours?'" Kim said.
While most people hope they never end up here, life is unpredictable, and patients like Whaley take comfort in knowing dedicated cancer care is right around the corner.
"I can’t tell you how thankful I am," she said.