A patient lays on the proton therapy treatment table while therapist adjusts positioning

Proton therapy from a patient’s perspective: Part 1


Richard is a former proton therapy patient and advocate for this advanced cancer treatment. This is part one of his proton therapy experience in his own words . . .

My journey to proton therapy probably started like a lot of people who choose this type of treatment. I did my due diligence and researched all available treatments to try and find the one I thought would be best for me. I searched the internet, read tons of material, and even spoke with other survivors. I even met with a team of doctors at a top university hospital which is rated as one of the top ten cancer treatment centers in the United States. I must say, they did have an impressive facility with a large glass fronted building and a lobby/atrium with lavish furnishings. A string quartet was playing in the mezzanine and a pianist was busy on the main floor.

What I soon found out, however, was the doctors there pretty much pushed their own area of expertise, which was primarily surgery and rounds of traditional radiation therapy, hormone therapy, etc. I left there for the trip back home feeling sad and alone with thoughts of treatments resulting in wearing adult diapers or being nauseated for weeks on end from radiation therapy. And what about hormone therapy? Would I start growing breasts and shopping uncontrollably? Obviously, more research was required. At that point, I had pretty much written off proton therapy because I just couldn’t see myself spending weeks in a strange place all by myself and going through the treatments, too.

Shortly thereafter, a minor miracle happened. My cousin, who works in the medical field, told my parents about proton therapy and suggested I consider it for my treatment. I searched the website and discovered the center was located just about a mile from my parent’s home! I liked the idea of a “radiation vacation,” but all indications were that it wasn’t scheduled to open until January 2014 and I had been diagnosed in September 2013. I was really disappointed. I didn’t think I could wait that long because, like most people, I assumed that once you are diagnosed with cancer the next step is to get it out ASAP. But the university surgeon had told me in early October they wouldn’t be able to operate on me until about mid-December, as they like to give the prostate time to heal from the biopsy to lessen the chance of possible infection. That was just another month before the Provision center was scheduled to open, so I thought, “This just may work out.”

I also discovered that prostate cancer can be a slow growing form of cancer and that many people live with it and employ the watchful waiting technique. So, I decided another month wouldn’t really make a big difference.  Things were starting to come together!  I first contacted Provision around the middle of October to started the process. I received the necessary paper work and Robert J. Marckini’s book, “You Can Beat Prostate Cancer.” I read the book continuously after work and finished it on the second day. I was really getting psyched. When I was home for the holidays, my parents and I took a tour of the facility. My mother, along with the rest of my family, were still struggling to come to terms with the fact that my older brother had just passed away suddenly a week earlier. My family was encouraged by the center and were all very hopeful that I would get better.

I came home for a couple of weeks around Christmas and during the first week I had my preliminary work done, including an MRI and placing of the fiducial markers. I joked with the family that no one could say I was worthless anymore because with the gold markers and a gold filling in one of my teeth I was at least worth a few bucks. Looking back I would say that the preliminary work was probably the worst part of the whole experience. I will never forget the kindness that was extended to me by the people at the center. I especially remember the nurse manager holding my hand for the marker placement. That small act of kindness still stands out in my mind. I also found out that one of my radiation therapists had “the hands of an angel.” I really liked the staff and looked forward to seeing them despite the circumstances. We had a few laughs too, like the time the gown I was given one day looked like it was made for a child and the therapists really liked my “mini-skirt.” One of the girls said she had seen me in a gown so often she probably wouldn’t recognize me if we met on the street. I really miss everyone at Provision and I truly feel like I left a part of myself there, too.

I am beginning to miss Tennessee after being home for so long and I am looking to finding work there. Don’t be surprised if you see me around the water cooler one day. Provision is a place with such great people who really make a difference. I will definitely return for a visit one way or another. My health condition is improving each week and the “plumbing” is working pretty well, so I hope to be back to normal soon. I can honestly say that my time with Provision was a life changing experience and I think about it every day. When I think about the day I walked out of my last treatment and everyone was there waiting for me and applauding, I get choked up every time. The real applause belongs to the staff at Provision and the fine work they do there. I am eternally grateful.

Mr. Patton’s story does not end here . . . read Part 2 of his inspirational story here.