Aug 11, 2021 Cancer Care Through the Years

Kathleen Toomey, MD speaking at the Steeplechase Cancer Center at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital (RWJUH) Somerset

Kathleen Toomey, MD speaking at the Steeplechase Cancer Center at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital (RWJUH) Somerset

A medical oncologist reflects on her four decades at RWJUH Somerset.

Kathleen Toomey, MD
Kathleen Toomey, MD

Kathleen Toomey, MD, a medical oncologist and Medical Director of the Steeplechase Cancer Center at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital (RWJUH) Somerset, has treated countless patients over the last four decades. She served as the first woman president of the medical/dental staff and has been a member of the hospital and Foundation boards. She recently joined the RWJBarnabas Health Medical Group, so we decided to ask her to reflect on what’s changed over the years—and what’s stayed the same.

You started working at RWJUH Somerset in 1987. How has cancer care changed?

Patients are living longer and better these days. When I started caring for patients in the mid-1980s, we cured about 48 percent of patients. Today, we can cure about 70 percent of patients. We talk about survivorship much more. Many cancer survivors have the same life span as those who have never had cancer.

The number of new treatments increases every year. Also, we’re able to minimize the complications associated with treatment.

You were instrumental in establishing the Steeplechase Cancer Center in 2007. How has the Cancer Center grown?

Before the Steeplechase Cancer Center was built, patients had to travel to multiple facilities for care. We wanted to make their care more convenient. The Steeplechase Cancer Center offers access to various subspecialists, such as surgeons, gynecologic oncologists and radiologists. It also has a boutique where patients can purchase wigs, bras and compression garments. Patients can visit Steeplechase’s library and learn more about their disease, and they can attend support group meetings. The building also features an infusion suite, a laboratory and a space for lectures and community events. There’s also a bridge to the hospital.

Biweekly, surgical oncologists, medical oncologists, pathologists, radiation oncologists, nurse navigators and others gather to formulate the best treatment plans for patients. Our affiliation with the Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey enables patients to get second opinions and gain access to clinical trials.

We have hired more physicians, such as a gynecologic oncologist and liver surgeon. Our hope is that the more experts we have, the more research we can do and the better treatments our patients will receive.

What are you most proud of at the Steeplechase Cancer Center?

I’m most proud of the atmosphere at the Steeplechase Cancer Center. When patients walk in, they see a fireplace that looks like it belongs in a national park lodge. Cancer is scary, and we want to provide a warm atmosphere. We have a culture of compassion, kindness and excellence.

To schedule an appointment with a cancer specialist at RWJUH Somerset, call 844-CANCERNJ or 844-226-2376.