Mercy Hiller checks blood pressure at the new 21st Century Oncology Center in Marathon. Local cancer patients will be able to stay in town for follow-up care.

This is a big step in the right direction for healthcare in the Middle Keys. While cancer patients will not be able to receive radiation treatments in Marathon, they will be able to have new-patient consultations and follow up appointments at the new 21st Century Oncology office in the building at 52nd Street, gulfside.

“There is good scientific evidence that if people have to travel too far for treatment, they won’t; either because they are physically unable to get there or because they are unable to afford the cost of getting there,” said Dr. Anesa Ahamad. “We can’t offer radiation treatments in Marathon, but we can save our patients the journey and travel time to get their consultations.”

Dr. Ahamad is the only board-certified radiation oncologist practicing in all of the Florida Keys. The 21st Century Oncology Center in Key West was established more than 10 years ago and Dr. Ahamad joined the group about three years ago. The office in Marathon celebrated a grand opening last month. On a recent day, they saw 12 patients for follow-up care and two patients for an initial consultation.

“We plan to have office hours once a month to begin, and see what develops in terms of need,” said Mercy Hiller, regional administrator for the practice. The idea of being able to see a doctor without having to travel, or otherwise disrupt the patient’s lifestyle, is important.

“When cancer patients have to drive to Miami and spend the week up there, that’s not ideal,” Hiller said. “When you’re sick you need the support and care of friends, family and the community. They want to be able to stop in and bring you soup or a pie or just see how you are doing.”

Many of 21st Century Oncology patients are snowbirds.

“They find out they have cancer, but they don’t want to cancel their annual trip to the Florida Keys,” said Dr. Ahamad. “We put a lot of effort in to coordinating their care with the doctors up North and then transferring the records when they go home. I make it a point to call their home physician and have a conversation about the treatment.”

Radiation treatments typically are administered five days a week and most courses run three to eight weeks, Dr. Ahamad said. Sixty percent of cancer patients need radiation treatment. Of course, cancer doesn’t discriminate and the doctor treats patients from all walks of life with all types of cancer, except children.

“The Keys are an extraordinary place, with fascinating people,” she said.  “It’s really a privilege to be a part of people’s lives especially in this awful time.”

21st Century Oncology is currently accepting new patients. The Marathon office will be open on Tuesday, Feb. 4 and is located at 52nd Street, gulfside, in the Chaplin building next to Wendy’s. The office will be open the first Tuesday of every month. For more information, or to make an appointment, call 305-289-9998.


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