Pancreatic cancer patient embraces proton therapy


Provision does not specialize in repeat customers, but Darrell Ragland’s cancer diagnosis has brought him here more than once. And he couldn’t be more thankful.

In 2002, Ragland was diagnosed with islet cell pancreatic cancer—the disease made famous by Steve Jobs. Fourteen years later, he says he is “living with cancer”—maintaining an active lifestyle and helping support others on their cancer journey.

Ragland was treated for tumors near his spine, affecting the ability to use his arm, and in his liver. He came to Provision for treatment in April and August of 2014.

“I’m grateful,” he says. “I’m grateful for the opportunity to further my days and have a quality of life.”

He was 46, served as technical advisor for Alcoa and raising four children in Evansville, Ind. when originally diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Following surgery to remove his spleen, gallbladder and two-thirds of his pancreas, he lived five years with no other complications. Then the tumors returned in 2007, metastasizing to his liver. Using a combination of clinical trial treatments and conventional radiation, only two of 13 tumors remain.

“With islet cell (cancer), tumors can pop up anywhere,” Ragland says.

After a suggestion from a local radiologist, the Raglands began exploring proton therapy as a treatment option. The targeted form of radiation therapy allowed the tumors found in these delicate parts of the body to be treated without damaging surrounding tissue and severely impacting normal function.

After making calls, and encountering automated responses, to several centers, Ragland’s wife, Karen, contacted Provision.

“A voice answered, tears started flowing,” Ragland says. “When you’re going through it, and you get a recording saying, ‘Your call is important to us, please hold,” to hear an actual person on the other end of the line is a big deal.”

When he arrived at Provision for the first set of treatments, Ragland could not even squeeze his hand.

“It was come to Knoxville or lose total mobility in my right arm,” he says.

Today he has full mobility in his arm. And the follow-up treatment on his liver and lymph nodes was also successful.

These positive outcomes have helped open the minds of Ragland’s physicians back home, and now they solicit Provision doctors’ opinions on his follow-up scans.

Ragland credits his faith and family support system for challenging medical opinions that offered little hope—at one point a nurse informed him that they had done “everything we know to do for you,” he says.

“As a patient advocate, you have to be persistent in finding something else,” says his daughter, Channelle Ragland. “They say, ‘Well, that’s it.’ We don’t accept that. We’re just not those kind of people.”

The Raglands are channeling what they’ve learned through their education and advocacy experience into a foundation aimed at helping cancer patients navigate a complicated health care system and find the treatment that’s best for them. Although initially targeting pancreatic patients, the Darrell Ragland Foundation has come to work with all families facing a cancer diagnosis.

Ragland believes it’s important to demonstrate that cancer is not a death sentence—and to provide others with the tools he’s found to live with the disease.

Channelle tells the story of a recent encounter at the local drug store.

“The pharmacist said, ‘I didn’t know he had cancer,’” she says, “’He’s always mowing the lawn.’”

Proton therapy has been a big part of keeping him on that lawn mower and doing other things he enjoys most, Ragland says.

“I try to be grateful for my cancer,” he says. “If I can learn to thankful for the day, hopefully there’ll be a cure tomorrow.”