Terry chose proton therapy for throat cancer

Throat cancer patient gives high marks to Proton Therapy


When Terry first felt a small growth the size of a pinkie fingertip on his neck, he dismissed it as a harmless cyst.

Even two weeks later, when it had doubled into the size of a thumb and then doubled again the following week, he had not yet sought medical help.

Looking back, Terry says, “I’m in medical sales. I should have known better.”

His daughter, who happens to be a nurse, finally convinced him to take action. He went to the emergency room on a Sunday to get it checked out.

“On Tuesday, they said, ‘You have cancer,’” Terry remembers.

Biopsies followed. In the meantime, the tumor grew to almost the size of a softball before Terry began chemotherapy treatment to shrink the large mass attached to his right tonsil, as well as a smaller nodule on the other side of his throat.

The chemotherapy resulted in dramatic improvement, but radiation was prescribed to keep the cancer at bay—and that’s where things started to get ugly.

“They kept saying that my cancer was very treatable,” Terry says. “But the long-term side effects from x-ray radiation were crazy.”

Not only would he likely require a feeding tube at some point during treatment due to peripheral damage from the x-rays, but he could also permanently lose his sense of taste and disrupt salivary gland function. Terry and his wife, Trina, met one patient missing his bottom teeth and another with a tracheostomy. They were told chemo combined with radiation, which he required, could exacerbate the symptoms.

On top of all that, Terry was jarred by an offhanded remark from one physician that x-ray radiation could contribute to plaque buildup in his coronary artery. “Heart disease has been an issue in his family,” Trina says.

Desperate for alternatives, Terry remembered a newspaper article he’d seen, just two weeks before, about proton therapy in his home state of Tennessee.

He and Trina started researching proton therapy right away, but some of his doctors were skeptical. Even with an abundance of clinical research supporting the benefits of proton therapy, Trina recalls being told there wasn’t enough data.

However, after speaking with survivors who chose proton therapy and others who endured the collateral damage of traditional radiation, they were convinced protons could accomplish what x-rays could not. When the couple, who personally support a number of cancer causes, learned that St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital had also invested in proton therapy, it sealed the deal.

“We are strong supporters of St. Jude and know what a top facility it is,” Trina says. “That was pretty much it.”

In one marathon day, Terry and Trina met with a proton-experienced radiation oncologist, then traveled to another facility to discuss traditional x-ray radiation therapy.

“It just felt really good at the proton center,” Trina says.

The proton center physician reassured Terry that his side effects would be temporary and that, although there could be discomfort and other side effects from proton therapy, he would likely not require a feeding tube and would be able to resume normal eating, drinking, and talking shortly after treatment.

Terry and Trina say their time at the proton center has only further convinced them they made the right decision for Terry’s care—one they believe providence helped guide them toward.

“I’ve sat in the lobby for almost three weeks and I’ve yet to hear one negative remark from anyone,” Trina says. “That makes you feel even more like we’re in the right place.”