Even though he is now cancer-free, Orden Harman still has the plastic mesh mask he wore to keep his head still during radiation treatments. He keeps it to remind him of the process he endured.
The custom-made mask, which helped direct the beam of radiation at only his tumor, and not at surrounding healthy tissue or nearby vital organs, was rigid and uncomfortable to wear, according to Harman. In fact, the mask would actually leave a slight, temporary imprint on his face after treatment sessions, which would last 10-45 minutes each.
“You lie down on a table, and they clamp the mask down on you,” says Harman. “It has red markings on the side to indicate exactly where technicians would aim the radiation.”
Thankfully, a new generation of linear accelerators, the machines that provide the treatments, are helping to improve treatment sessions for current and future radiation therapy patients. The newest linear accelerators dramatically reduce treatment times, meaning that patients with head and neck cancers don’t have to experience the discomfort of the mask for as long. In addition, newer models offer a movable treatment table that can rotate in any direction, so the radiation beam can be pointed at an optimal angle to reach tumors.
When Harman, who was diagnosed with squamous cell cancer behind his ear in 2011, learned that the Sentara RMH Hahn Cancer Center needed a new linear accelerator, he decided to contribute toward the $3.7 million cost.
“I could hardly stand wearing the mask, and I think it’s probably even more difficult for patients who are claustrophobic,” Harman says. “The new machine is much more capable than the old one and will truly benefit the whole community.”
Sentara RMH currently has two linear accelerators, but one is aging and must be replaced, according to Cory Davies, executive director of the RMH Foundation. The hospital provides more than 7,000 radiation treatments per year, ranging in number from 25 to 45 per day.
To fund the purchase of a new, more efficient linear accelerator, the Foundation has kicked off a campaign to raise $2 million in 12 months.
“The new linear accelerators are so efficient, we’ll be able to treat three patients in the amount of time it currently takes us to treat one patient,” Davies says. “What would require 45 minutes of treatment in the past will take only 15 minutes with the new machine.”
Another key benefit of the new linear accelerator is its ability to account for unwanted patient movement. The newer machines automatically pause when a patient moves, reducing the risk that radiation beams will affect healthy tissue.
Staying still can be particularly difficult for those being treated for head and neck cancer, Davies says. Any twitch, sneeze or cough can aim the radiation away from a tumor. In addition, the new technology is so advanced that the mesh masks can be replaced with open-faced masks.
Giving Back to Meet a Vital Need
The Harman family has lived in Harrisonburg for several generations. Orden’s father, Frank, owned and operated a poultry hatchery, equipment and farm. Orden later ran a beef operation on that farm and on other farms in the area.
In 1971, Orden and his brother Carl started Harman Farm Supplies, selling silos, grain bins and steel buildings. When the farm economy declined in the mid-1980s, they switched gears and founded Harman Construction, with projects including commercial buildings, educational buildings, churches, restaurants, hotels, warehouses and apartment buildings throughout the Shenandoah Valley.
For the past 30 years, however, Orden has focused on real estate development. He currently works as president of Harman Realty with his son, Randy.
Ironically, in 2004 the Harman family sold the land that had been their original family farm to RMH for the hospital’s new campus. As it turned out, the new hospital and its Hahn Cancer Center played a vital role in Orden’s cancer treatment, in terms of surgeries and radiation therapy treatments, which he received five days a week for a month. These days, he follows up with his doctor every six months and has had cancer removed twice since his initial course of treatment.
Orden and his wife, Reba, regularly contribute to the RMH Foundation to help enhance the quality of health care in the community.
“The Harmans have long been considered leaders in this community, and their support for the hospital certainly demonstrates that,” says Davies. “The gift they are making to the new linear accelerator—along with the support of many others—is helping to make possible a higher level of cancer care in our community. On behalf of the patients who will experience this new level of care, we are truly grateful. We also encourage others to support this incredibly important effort.”
How You Can Help
To make this advanced level of cancer care a reality, philanthropy must contribute $2 million to the $3.7 million total cost of the new linear accelerator. The campaign is off to a tremendous start, but every gift matters. For more information on how you can support this effort, please call or contact:
Cory Davies, Executive Director, RMH Foundation
540-689-8541 (direct line)
You can also visit www.SupportRMH.org.
Thank you for your support!