Gettysburg Cancer Center gets new name, opens third clinic

Gettysburg Cancer Center, a community oncology practice for three decades, has adopted a new name and logo – as part of an extensive rebrand – and opened a clinic at 6475 Carlisle Pike, Mechanicsburg.

The practice is now known as Pennsylvania Cancer Specialists & Research Institute to reflect its “mission of becoming the leading cancer care and clinical trial provider in Pennsylvania,” a release said.

It also operates clinics in Gettysburg and Hanover.

“We’ve had significant exciting changes to Gettysburg Cancer Center’s structure and growth over the last few years,” said Dr. Satish Shah, the practice’s founder and medical director. “We have started treating patients in Mechanicsburg and plan to grow throughout Pennsylvania, expanding care options, including clinical research, in the community – close to where our patients live. Our mission demanded we rebrand the practice to better reflect who we are to our patients, their caregivers as well as our care teams.”

In July 2021, the practice joined OneOncology, the national platform for independent oncology practices, and added four providers while also expanding services along the cancer continuum of care.

Pennsylvania Cancer Specialists and Research Institute offers patients comprehensive medical and radiation oncology care, including a “robust” clinical trial program, the release said.

The practice has more than 20 clinical trials open and more are being considered. Over his career, Shah has run more than 100 clinical trials in central Pennsylvania.

Paula Wolf is a freelance writer

Mini-THONs raise nearly $5.8 million for childhood cancer treatment, research

Students from hundreds of school districts in Pennsylvania, Delaware, New Jersey, Maryland and Virginia raised almost $5.8 million in the fight to conquer childhood cancer to benefit Four Diamonds at Penn State Health Children’s Hospital, it was announced Friday.

The fundraising total from the 2021-22 school year was revealed at the annual Four Diamonds Mini-THON Summit.

Throughout the academic year, student leaders and volunteers from 208 school districts in the five states organized and hosted Mini-THON fundraisers and events. The total more than doubles the previous year’s amount, which was hurt by the pandemic.

Mini-THON is a Four Diamonds program coordinated by K-12 students and is modeled after the Penn State IFC/Panhellenic Dance Marathon that benefits Four Diamonds.

The fundraising supports Four Diamonds families at the Children’s Hospital, which is in Hershey, through world-class care and financial support and ground-breaking research for new treatments and cures for childhood cancers.

Since it began 29 years ago, the Mini-THON program has contributed more than $58 million to Four Diamonds.

“We are so grateful for the remarkable young leaders whose energy, enthusiasm and unwavering dedication to conquering childhood cancer drive the Mini-THON movement,” Suzanne Graney, executive director of Four Diamonds, said in a release. “Each student leader is inspiring and empowering their student body and their community to join us as our partners in the fight to end childhood cancer for all kids around the world.”

Paula Wolf is a freelance writer

Four Diamonds funds new cancer innovation center

Dr. Chandrika Gowda, left, collaborates with Dr. Sinisa Dovat on research at Penn State College of Medicine, in this photo taken prior to the pandemic. PHOTO PROVIDED

Penn State Health Children’s Hospital and Penn State College of Medicine, in Hershey, have approved creation of the Four Diamonds Center for Childhood Cancer Innovation, an expansion of Four Diamonds’ work to cure pediatric cancers.

Part of a multi-year strategic plan, the virtual center commits to use $24 million, through the Division of Pediatric Hematology and Oncology, from fundraising efforts by Four Diamonds, including Penn State’s THON.

The center fits with Four Diamonds’ mission to provide comprehensive support to children and their families, including paying for 100% of medical expenses related to cancer care not covered by insurance for eligible Four Diamonds children, while expanding clinical research.

A release explained that the center will build upon the work of Four Diamonds in patient care; collaborative opportunities between the Division of Pediatric Hematology and Oncology and the Penn State Cancer Institute; and competitive research grants.

In the patient care area, the center will strive to more precisely identify cancers and develop more personalized treatments that lead to better cure rates and survivorship.

Dr. Yatin Vyas, a pediatric oncologist and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at Penn State Health Children’s Hospital, will oversee the center’s work.

“We are thrilled to continue and expand on Four Diamonds’ pursuit to find a cure for all pediatric cancers,” Vyas said in the release. “We believe philanthropy can ultimately help accelerate the timeline for clinical research and help our investigators discover and get treatments to patients faster. Everyone benefits from a higher level of collaboration, and we are grateful to the generous donors who make this life-saving work possible.”

Paula Wolf is a freelance writer

Four Diamonds’ executive director Suzanne Graney talks legacy, philanthropy and growth 

Penn State students announce the final tally for THON 2022. PHOTO/PROVIDED

Penn State’s annual IFC/Panhellenic Dance Marathon, commonly referred to as THON, broke its fundraising record this year by raising a total of $13.7 million in time for the student-run charity’s 50th anniversary. 

The iconic fundraiser, founded in 1973, is the largest student-run philanthropy in the world and since its founding, THON has raised over $200 million for Hershey-based nonprofit Four Diamonds. 

Through THON, Penn State students raise money during a year-long effort that culminates in a 46-hour, no-sitting, no-sleeping dance marathon. It is one of three programs that Four Diamonds relies on to support children and their families in the fight against childhood cancer through care, support and research. 

In the last decade, Four Diamonds has grown exponentially by expanding its administration, updating how it communicates with students, finding ways to keep students invested in giving after they graduate and more. 

That growth has resulted in the nonprofit bringing in 75% of its total fundraised money in the past 12 years—something that can be partially attributed to the leadership of Suzanne Graney, Four Diamond’s executive director since 2010. 

Graney joined Four Diamonds with an established background in communications and marketing from a previous role as director of development and marketing at Harrisburg-based WITF. However, it was Graney’s experience as a volunteer in a youth leadership program that drew her to a position at Four Diamonds. 

As a volunteer, Graney worked with young people to help them recognize and grasp their full potential, something that she does today with the student leader of THON. 

“To get to see that spark of learning and growth through their time with Four Diamonds—whether it is through THON, Mini-THON or other opportunities, it’s rewarding to see how they are awakened to their skills,” said Graney. 

Through THON, students learn best practices in fundraising, social media and digital fundraising along with lessons in leadership and teamwork—fostering future philanthropists. 

Suzanne Graney. PHOTO/PROVIDED

Leading Four Diamonds 

Leading an organization like Four Diamonds takes what Graney calls a combination of heart and smart. 

“You can have a lot of heart and care and it is important to be rooted in the mission to truly care about the individuals who are making this work happen,” she said. “On the flip side, you have to approach it from a place of smart business principles. You have to have return on investment, and you have to manage the financial pieces of this well.” 

Under Graney’s leadership, Four Diamonds has grown from three to 17 full-time staff members. Those staff changes have included the addition of a team dedicated to Mini-THON, a similar year-long fundraising effort modeled after THON but focused on K-12 students. 

Another area of growth for the nonprofit has been how it communicates with the public, according to Graney. Four Diamonds has grown its social media presence, recognizing that it needs to meet students and donors at their preferred websites. 

“We knew that Penn State University students were heavily on Twitter. We had to grow on Twitter as a response,” said Graney. “We know that our donors were on Facebook. So, we needed our stories on Facebook.” 

In the spirit of meeting its community where it is, Four Diamonds announced a new program to stand beside THON and Mini-THON in July, called Play For The Kids. 

Through Play For The Kids, Four Diamonds supporters can raise money by hosting a variety of events such as food eating contests or fitness challenges, during Childhood Cancer Awareness Month in September. 

Graney said she sees the new program as a way to keep students and families invested in the THON and Mini-Thon mindset even after graduating college or high school. 

“It is about bringing people together. Being part of a larger movement all focused on funding studies for childhood cancer,” she said. “It is an expansion of what we are doing and an opportunity for anyone at any age to be part of the solution.” 

Penn State students take a selfie with the Nittany Lion at THON 2022. PHOTO/PROVIDED

Looking back and forward 

Along with breaking THON’s record annual donations, 2022 THON acted as a celebration of 50 years of THON. 

It was also Four Diamonds’ first year without its co-founder, Charles Millard, who died in late 2021 at the age of 93. 

Millard co-founded Four Diamonds with his wife, Irma, after the loss of their son Christopher to cancer in 1972. Four Diamonds became the beneficiary of Penn State’s THON in 1977 after Millard made a connection with a student involved in the organization. 

During his time with Four Diamonds, a common phrase of Millard’s was: “Maybe Einstein was right and we are all energy and that energy never dies, it just takes another form.” 

The energy of THON’s hours long dance party is hard to describe, according to Graney, who said she kept thinking of that quote during the weekend. 

“It’s filled with hope, positivity and goodwill,” she said. “You feel that the minute you enter that building and you feel it the entire time.” 

The anniversary was also an opportunity to look forward for Four Diamonds.  

Last November Penn State Health named Dr. Yatin Vyas as chair of its Department of Pediatrics, Children’s Miracle Network and Four Diamonds Endowed Chair and pediatrician-in-chief at Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center and Penn State College of Medicine. 

In this new role, one of Vyas’ first steps will be to put together a new strategic plan for pediatric oncology and hematology. Graney said that this new strategic plan is an opportunity for the hospital and its researchers to tell Four Diamonds what it needs from them. 

“Once we know what that direction is, we will get to work and do everything we can to provide them with what they need to care for kids as best they can in the most modern, up to date and leading edge ways possible,” she said. 


Penn State Health adds physician leader for cancer services 


Penn State Health appointed Dr. Marc Rovito to vice president and physician leader for cancer services, a newly created position that’s part of the health system’s effort to deliver coordinated cancer care across its hospitals and outpatient locations.

He and Ethel Randall, administrative vice president of the cancer service line, will make decisions about capital investments in equipment and facilities, recruitment and retention of staff, and deployment of cancer care resources throughout Penn State Health’s service area. 

Rovito was most recently St. Joseph Medical Center’s interim vice president of medical affairs, joining the hospital in 2011.

He has served as St. Joseph Cancer Center medical director and cancer liaison physician, leading accreditation initiatives for the cancer care programs and overseeing a $5.5 million addition to the cancer center. 

“Marc is well positioned to lead this exciting transformation of our clinical cancer care processes given his combined experience in academic, community and private practice settings,” Dr. Peter Dillon, executive vice president and chief clinical officer of Penn State Health, said in a release. 

Board certified in medical oncology, Rovito is an assistant professor in the Department of Medicine’s Division of Hematology and Oncology at Penn State College of Medicine and Penn State Cancer Institute. 

UPMC Hanover adds Hillman Cancer Center

A UPMC Hillman Cancer Center has opened at UPMC Hanover, specializing in hematology, medical oncology and gynecologic oncology services.

The facility is equipped with 12 infusion areas, 10 private bays, five oncology exam rooms, procedure rooms, an on-site pharmacy and a clinical lab. Patients and their families will have access as well to financial, nutritional and psychosocial counseling, palliative care and support groups.

The center, in the medical office building at 310 Stock St., Suite 5, is part of the UPMC Hillman Cancer Center network, one of 51 National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Centers in the U.S.

“Patients in this region will receive not only medical and radiation oncology services, but will have direct access to renowned cancer specialists, cutting-edge research in immunotherapy, access to more than 500 leading-edge clinical trials, and the most advanced technology for cancer detection and treatment,” Michael Gaskins, president of UPMC Hanover and UPMC Memorial, said in a release.

The opening of a UPMC Hillman Cancer Center is a “testament to UPMC’s commitment to the Hanover community in providing access to world-class care, close to home,” added Adam Dimm, vice president, cancer services, UPMC Central Pa. “The services we’re providing here are designed to meet the cancer needs of this community, and we will continue reinvesting across our region to advance clinical and service excellence.”

WellSpan Health and Johns Hopkins Medicine ‘fight cancer together’ with expanded partnership 

An infusion bay overlooks a water feature at the WellSpan Sechler Family Cancer Center in Lebanon. PHOTO/SUBMITTED

WellSpan and Johns Hopkins’ Kimmel Cancer Center have had a clinical and research collaboration since 2017 that saw Johns Hopkins provide specialists in pediatric, urology and plastic surgeries as well as second opinions on severe cancer cases, to WellSpan’s Southcentral Pennsylvania hospitals and cancer centers. 

This week, WellSpan and Johns Hopkins Medicine announced that they will be expanding that relationship to include shared treatment protocols, access to subspecialty physicians, clinical trials, peer-to-peer consultations and educational opportunities, all with the goal of treating and researching cancer. 

“Our relationship was a good one. It was our physicians reaching out if they had a patient they needed a second opinion on, or Hopkins reaching out about a trial. It was a smaller scope. Now we are really fighting cancer together,” said Dr. Roxanna Gapstur, president and CEO of WellSpan. “We are now collaborating more closely together.” 

The expanded relationship will allow WellSpan to offer more complex cancer care closer to home, with Johns Hopkins’ physicians providing care at WellSpan’s hospitals, said Kevin Sowers, president of the Johns Hopkins Health System and executive vice president of Johns Hopkins Medicine. 

“The diagnosis of cancer is difficult for a patient and family,” said Sowers. “To keep patients closer to home and not make them travel improves the care they can receive and improves their quality of life during that difficult time.” 

WellSpan’s cancer experts currently see nearly 4,000 new patients annually across all their cancer centers. Johns Hopkins and WellSpan plan to provide those experts with greater resources to tackle more difficult cases through educational opportunities as well as specialty tumor board conferences with Hopkins’ physicians. 

Tumor boards play an important role in cancer care as they allow specialists to gather together to discuss unusual or challenging cancer cases. With Johns Hopkins’ breadth of specialists and number of annual cases, WellSpan will have access to tumor board conferences specialized for certain kinds of cancer, said Gapstur. 

Telehealth will also be an important piece of the collaboration, with patients able to access Johns Hopkins’ providers from Baltimore and physicians able to contact one another for support, but could take until next year to be off the ground. 

 The collaboration agreement with Johns Hopkins Medicine will extend to and benefit all of WellSpan’s cancer centers, including the WellSpan Adams Cancer Center, the WellSpan Ephrata Cancer Center, the WellSpan Sechler Family Cancer Center and WellSpan cancer care locations in Franklin County. 

As a leader in cancer care and research, Johns Hopkins maintains affiliation agreements with a number of hospitals. Its partnership with WellSpan, however, provides an opportunity for the Baltimore system to expand its outreach into Southcentral Pennsylvania, said Sowers. 

 “As we looked at Southern Pennsylvania, WellSpan was really a vibrant health system in that community that we felt we were kindred spirits with,” he said. “WellSpan has incredible clinicians today providing cancer care. This allows them to partner with us, provide advanced insight into diseases and determine what can be done versus what might need to come to a tertiary care center.” 

Rutters’ donates $5K to York cancer center for gas cards that will help patients get to appointments

UPMC staff accept a $5,000 donation from a Rutter’s representative. PHOTO PROVIDED

Patients of UPMC Hillman Cancer Center who are struggling to get to appointments because of transportation costs could receive a Rutter’s gas card to help.

This week, York-based gas station chain donated $5,000 to the York cancer center. The donation will fund gas cards the center can give to patients as needed, UPMC Pinnacle announced Tuesday.

Patients can redeem the cards at any Rutter’s location.

“Many of our patients have frequent or even daily appointments, whether in the office, in radiation oncology or in the infusion center,” said Michelle Laughman, practice manager at UPMC Hillman Cancer Center. “We’ve had patients share their struggles to afford transportation, and we greatly appreciate this donation from Rutter’s that will help ease that burden for our patients.”

Last year, Rutter’s gave over $1.1 million in donations to charitable organizations and expects to exceed that this year, said Chris Hartman, Rutters’ director of fuels, forecourt and advertising.

“At Rutter’s, we love giving back to our communities each and every year to support those in need,” Hartman said.

Penn State Cancer Institute hires new research expert

Dr. Mitchell Machtay. PHOTO PROVIDED

Penn State Cancer Institute’s newest associate director for clinical research is expected to help lead the institute as it continues to expand clinical trials and research new cancer treatment drugs.

Hershey-based Penn State Health announced on Tuesday that it hired Dr. Mitchell Machtay, a board-certified radiation oncologist who previously served as professor and chair in the Department of Radiation Oncology at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine in Cleveland.

Machtay’s experience in the field of cancer research will be used to grow the institute’s clinical trials portfolio, which will ultimately provide better outcomes for cancer patients seeking care for their diagnosis, said Dr. Raymond Hohl, director of the institute.

“With his recent selection to the high-profile position of associate dean for clinical cancer research, Dr. Machtay will help advance our ability to conduct cancer clinical trials within Penn State Health’s rapidly growing health care system,” said Hohl.

Machtay’s recruitment, along with the hiring of other leading cancer researchers, was pushed forward as part of Penn State Health’s partnership with Highmark Health. In 2018, Highmark presented the institute with a $25 million grant to allow the organization to invest in research operations and transformative science.

Deborah Rice-Johnson, president of Highmark Inc., said that the insurer is thrilled to have Machtay join Penn State’s roster of national experts combating cancer.

“Through the Highmark-Penn State Health partnership, we are working together to recruit leading scientists and advance discoveries that improve the lives of individuals and families challenged by cancer,” she said. “This work is a key component of our shared commitment to improve the health and well-being of central Pennsylvanians for generations to come.”