Northwest Wisconsin Cancer Center Brings Together Talent & Technology

Terri Kramolis knows firsthand how difficult it can be to travel long distances for cancer treatment. After being diagnosed with breast cancer in 2008, the Ashland native made the 70-mile trek across Highway 2 each day for six weeks for radiation treatments at Essentia Health’s Cancer Center in Duluth.

“Radiation is exhausting enough, and then the drive was equally exhausting. During the winter the drive was extremely long, especially considering how short the actual radiation treatment lasts each day,” Kramolis recalls.

That’s why Kramolis is thrilled radiation oncology will soon be available in her hometown. And when the Northwest Wisconsin Cancer Center of Memorial Medical Center in collaboration with Essentia Health (NWCC) is completed, she will serve as the Center’s new manager.

“I think it’s going to be very integrated with the community and that’s what’s important to me. The hospital is critical too, it keeps this region alive,” she adds.

Kramolis should know. She served patients as a nurse at Memorial Medical Center for six years. Born and raised in Ashland, Kramolis has never left the town she loves to call home. “I always wanted to be a nurse,” she says. “I’m the oldest of seven, so I grew up being a caregiver, plus I love science and logic.”

She received her associate degree in nursing from Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College (WITC) in Ashland and then completed her Bachelors of Nursing degree while working at the hospital. “Professors would come up from Lacrosse one day a week for an eight-hour session,” she says. “It took me three years, but I got it done while working full time.”

After receiving a Master’s degree in Health Administration, she spent 12 years working in public health roles for both Bayfield and Ashland Counties. Her relationship skills are what drew her to the role of manager at the Cancer Center.

“What I saw in the position was an opportunity for fostering this partnership. I’m skilled in collaboration, so it’s the perfect fit for me,” says Kramolis.

Unlike Kramolis, cancer patients at the NWCC will no longer have to travel to Duluth to receive radiation therapy. They will be able to get their treatments onsite via a state-of-the-art Varian Truebeam Linear Accelerator that arrived Saturday, Feb. 20.

To contain that radiation inside the Linear Accelerator, contractors had to use special precautions when building its base, or shell. The walls alone contain 1.3 million pounds of concrete and are 15-feet high and 4 to 6.5 feet thick.

It will be Medical Physicist Brian Morabito’s job to make sure the $4 million machine is delivering the proper dose of radiation with pin-point accuracy.

“Since high school, I knew I wanted to go into physics,” says Morabito. “Being a medical physicist is rewarding when I know the work I do is directly benefitting patients who need it most.”

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The Varian Truebeam Linear Accelerator arrived at MMC on Saturday, Feb. 20.

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Once installed, this Varian Truebeam Linear Accelerator will provide radiation therapy for patients of the Northwest Wisconsin Cancer Center, allowing patients to get their treatment closer to home.

NWCC’s linear accelerator is the best on the market, even more high-tech than its sister machine in Duluth.

“One of the most exciting things about my job is that the technology is constantly evolving and that’s helping our patients because the radiation doses then become more accurate,” he says. “Part of my job is to work with our oncologists to deliver the most accurate dose of radiation as possible. And with this newest technology, doctors will have the most advanced imaging possible.”

Morabito received his Health Physics degree from Georgia Tech. He worked in various hospitals as a medial physicist, and then made the cross country move from Lake Tahoe, CA, to Ashland last month.

The cold and snow take some getting used to, but Morabito is already drawn to the drastically lower real estate prices found in the Midwest. “One of the things that drew me to the area was the low price of land,” Morabito says. “Ideally, I’d like to purchase property and have a hobby farm, raising some chickens.”

And if he does, he’ll have something in common with NWCC Manager Kramolis. She and her husband just happen to have a farm, where they rescue draft horses and large breed dogs.

Both Morabito and Kramolis are excited for the Cancer Center’s opening in May. For Morabito, it’s the excitement of being with a project from the ground up and discovering a new way of life in Wisconsin.   For Kramolis, it’s giving back to the community she’s always called home.

“I feel I’ve come full circle from how I started to where I’m going to finish, helping cancer patients right here in my hometown,” she says.

The Northwest Wisconsin Cancer Center of Memorial Medical Center in collaboration with Essentia Health will provide comprehensive cancer care to residents of Ashland and the surrounding region.  This $12 million project is the result of five years of planning and collaboration between Memorial Medical Center and Essentia Health.  The cancer center is expected to open in May of 2016 and will be located on the Memorial Medical Center campus in Ashland.