Cancer center keeps patients close to home

Registered nurse Kim Adams draws blood from Maria Enriquez of Portales on Thursday at the Plains Regional Cancer Center. (CNJ staff photo: Eric Kluth)

By David Irvin: CNJ staff writer

Until Maria Enriquez was diagnosed with breast cancer in September, she never really paid attention to the disease.

Since that time, the 29-year-old Portales resident has undergone painful chemotherapy treatments, economic difficulties and the emotional heartache of knowing one of the world’s leading killers among women might come back.

But what scares her the most, is the possibility the disease could be passed on to her two children.

“I have a 10-year-old, that I told her about it … but I don’t think she knows what cancer means, you know, how it hits you real hard,” Enriquez said Thursday while having blood drawn at the Plains Regional Cancer Center. “But she knows I have an illness called cancer, but I guess she’s not old enough to understand what that illness is.”

The cancer center is part of the multi-million dollar Phase 1 expansion at Plains Regional Medical Center nearing completion.

Dr. Miguel Araneo underscored the importance of having the radiation treatment in Clovis, saying combination treatments were impossible before it was installed.

“Some patients require combined therapy, with chemotherapy and radiation therapy at the same time, and if you don’t have the radiation unit here, it was almost impossible to do it,” said Araneo, who works in the radiation unit.

Enriquez will begin her radiation therapy this week. In the past, she would have had to drive to Lubbock, Roswell or Albuquerque once a day over the course of several weeks for the 15 minutes of treatment.

Sheryll Plyler, the director of the cancer center, said it’s impossible to work with patients like Enriquez and not become emotionally involved.

“The strength of spirit that people have here and their own upbeat attitudes are very inspirational to us,” a teary-eyed Plyler said. “It’s a privilege to be a part of their lives, a part of their families’ lives, and hopefully work them toward a cure.”

The state of the art radiation machine cost upwards of $1 million and is encased in a vault of concrete and lead to protect workers from the deluge of high-energy X-rays. The machine can target a tumor from eight directions, Plyler said, and an on-site physicist is required to calculate the exact dosage and manner of treatment.

The high-tech equipment in the cancer center, which includes a CT scan machine, cost more than the structure itself, hospital officials said.

But for Enriquez, the dedicated staff has meant the most.
“It takes people like this to make the illness feel a lot less than it is,” she said.