Dr. Mark E. Ellis passed away more than a year ago, but Lynn Ellis, his wife and professional partner, is carrying on their common dream to build, under one roof, a comprehensive Cancer Treatment Center in Williamsburg. The Center will unite integrative medicine, radiation therapy, and medical oncology, thereby re-establishing a complete holistic cancer care center.

It's a dream this remarkable couple lived and worked for every day for almost two decades. Lynn has recently been asked to stand, and has agreed to be at the forefront, of a growing grass roots effort to build The Mark E. Ellis, MD Cancer Treatment Center.

"I think such a facility would greatly enhance the cancer care already available in the Williamsburg community, and I am deeply honored and humbled by the existing desire in the community to build it," she said. (The proposed site for the Cancer Treatment Center is adjacent to Riverside Doctors' Hospital, which is scheduled to open in early 2013.)

Mark Ellis MD 1"Mark was a pioneer in bringing integrative medicine to cancer treatment," Lynn said. "He believed passionately in caring for our patients' total needs -- physical, spiritual, emotional, and psychological -- rather than just treating a disease. And his passion for this holistic approach made believers of everyone around him."

Though Dr. Ellis was the more publicly visible and recognized of the husband-wife team, Lynn played a crucial role in pursuing their dream for 17 years. "Mark went into practice for himself in 1993, and I joined him as practice administrator then. I've never once regretted that decision," she said. "We made a great team professionally and at home."

Lynn and Mark met in 1973 while in school at Wake Forest University. He was an aspiring medical student who played guitar in a rock band... as well as a cancer patient finishing up an experimental chemotherapy regimen. She was an English major who was set to begin work on an MBA. Lynn notes that his rock band was really pretty good, and as most of his patients know, he loved the Beatles music in particular.

The couple married in 1976, and in 1978 Lynn began her professional life in oncology at Wake Forest's Bowman Gray School of Medicine where Mark was a student.

The Move to Williamsburg
After completing medical school and internship, Dr. Ellis served for eight years in the U.S. Air Force before the couple moved to Williamsburg in 1989. Lynn and Mark quickly developed a strong commitment to the Williamsburg community. In 1993, Dr. Ellis left his group practice to open his solo practice, which was the first oncology practice devoted exclusively to serving Williamsburg area patients.

In 1996, the Ellis team built the Williamsburg Radiation Therapy Center/Williamsburg Physicians Center on Treyburn Drive in cooperation with Williamsburg Community Hospital and Riverside Health System, which successfully brought medical oncology and radiation therapy under one roof in the community for the first time. "This is why I say we are re-establishing the concept," explains Lynn.

The Ellis' dream came several steps closer to reality when Riverside CEO Rick Pearce called Mark while the couple was vacationing (actually, it was a short-lived attempt at retirement, Lynn notes). Pearce convinced Dr. Ellis to head Riverside's Peninsula Cancer Institute and promised full support for the integrative medicine approach so central to the Ellis team's philosophy of treatment.

"If It's Best for the Patient..."
"When we decided to take on this new challenge, the first thing we did was take a good long look at everything we had done up to this point in the way of providing treatment -- the good and the bad -- and how we could improve the patients' experience," Lynn said.

Mark Ellis MD 2The guiding principle for the practice became, "If it's best for the patient, it's the right thing to do." The staff at every level took the idea of patient-centered care to new levels. Lynn recounts training sessions in which she played the roles of various patients. Providing a comforting, compassionate environment in all departments for each patient was the goal.

"No matter how tight the schedule was, Mark walked nearly every patient back to the lobby after an appointment ended. I think tt was one of his ways of saying, 'You matter,' " Lynn said. She went on to say, "I can recall many evenings when Mark would come home exhausted after long, long hours at work. IfI expressed concern about him, his answer was always, 'I'm living the dream."'

A Look to the Future
Retired from her former role as the administrative director of Riverside's Peninsula Cancer Institute, Lynn spends much of her time these days helping to speak out for the Cancer Center and for integrative medicine. There has been an endowment, which is now called The Dr. Mark E. Ellis Endowment Fund for Cancer Care Advancement, in place to support integrative medicine in cancer treatment. Lynn helped the Riverside Foundation create the endowment in 2007 and she notes it is a crucial step -- though in her mind simply a starting point.

She's also completed a soon-to-be-published book, The Humanity of Medicine, which chronicles her husband's remarkable journey from cancer patient as a young man to visionary cancer physician. All of the proceeds from the book will go to furthering integrative medicine in cancer treatment for the Williamsburg area, as well as to the Wake Forest University Medical School.

"Integrative medicine which is provided free of charge to every cancer patient is very expensive. We need philanthropic support to sustain the program," Lynn said. "And we need to keep our vision solidly on finding a way to fund and build the Cancer Treatment Center as soon as possible, no matter whose name is on it."

Riverside Health System President Bill Downey reiterated Riverside's commitment to comprehensive cancer care in Williamsburg as well as its long-term support for the proposed new Cancer Treatment Center. "We know that Mark's concept of care is best implemented when cancer care is delivered in a patient and family-focused facility, to our current patients in one location with seamless care. We remain committed to this vision, while still providing exemplary cancer care right here at home -- in Williamsburg," Downey said.

Supporting the Center
If you would like to make a gift to The Dr. Mark E. Ellis Endowment Fund for Cancer Care Advancement supporting integrative medicine, please contact Debbie Atkinson at (757) 534-7070 or by email at debbie.atkinson@rivhs.com.