Prostate Cancer Survivor Advocates Legislation to Help Others Receive Life-Saving Proton Treatment


If Don Denton had followed the advice of the urologist who diagnosed his prostate cancer in the fall of 2010, his life would have turned out much differently.

And if by some chance he were still alive, he would likely be incontinent, impotent and awaiting the very real possibility of the cancer recurring. In other words, his quality of life would be so dramatically diminished it might hardly seem worth the struggle. But Denton had a lot to live for, and he would be the first to tell you he didn’t like the doctor’s odds. So after hearing the diagnosis and anticipating a gloomy future, he and his wife, Sulynne, began researching options to the treatment the urologist had recommended.

For several weeks they scoured the internet and gathered books and networked with cancer survivors, learning everything they could find on treatment for prostate cancer. Meanwhile, the doctor’s office kept calling, wanting to schedule surgery. Denton kept putting them off. “We did incredible research, but we weren’t daunted and we weren’t praying for a miracle. We always felt God would lead us to the right choice. We just hoped He would make it so obvious we wouldn’t miss it,” Denton says with a smile. Just before Christmas of that year, the couple heard about a Blount County prostate cancer support group. “We thought it would be a good idea to talk with others, and the meeting was going to take place just two minutes from our home in Townsend, so it seemed like a good idea. “What we learned from two of the members just blew us away. They had both had proton treatment, which is non-invasive, painless and allows the patient to lead a normal life while undergoing treatment and afterwards. It sounded too good to be true, but we went home and started researching it.”

Knoxville’s Provision Center for Proton Therapy wasn’t open yet. The nearest proton treatment center was in Jacksonville, Florida. Denton applied there, and several days later on Christmas Eve, he was notified that his insurance company wouldn’t cover the cost of proton therapy. “The insurance company said the treatment was ‘experimental,’ despite the fact that at that time there were nine proton centers open in the US and 14 more under construction or development. Denton said he learned that the treatment was far from experimental. “The concept was developed in 1946, the first patient was treated in 1954, and the FDA approved the treatment and Medicare began covering it in 1988. At the time of my diagnosis, tens of thousands of people worldwide had been cured of cancer through outpatient proton treatment and my insurance company was saying it was experimental. “At that point we were devastated. We were ready to mortgage our home and do whatever else it took to get this treatment. Through Christmas of that year we worked with an attorney on an appeal, and then the center asked that we let them file the first appeal with the insurance company.”

The insurance company finally agreed to pay. Don Denton had the treatment as an outpatient over a period of two months, and in the following week after the end of his treatments, he and his wife enjoyed hiking in the mountains and playing three rounds of golf. Today he is free of cancer and has had no permanent side effects or quality of life issues. Denton’s story has a happy ending, and he wants others diagnosed with prostate and breast cancer, which is also treated with proton therapy, to have a similar outcome.

He has written a book about his experience. “Calming the Storm” is available on You can also find him on Facebook under that title.

In addition, he’s on the speaker’s circuit at every opportunity, telling others about his experience and urging them to contact legislators in support of a bill now in the General Assembly and co-sponsored by state Rep. Ryan Haynes of Knox County and state Sen. Doug Overbey of Blount County.

The bill will force insurance companies to allow patients and their doctors to determine the best medical treatment, including proton treatment. “We hope everyone will contact their legislators and ask for support of the Cancer Patient Choice Act,” Denton says. “Insurance companies shouldn’t be allowed to deny benefits to cancer patients who chose proton therapy, and that’s exactly what is happening today.”

Read the bill in its entirety HERE