But Tupelo is home to another fan base too. A growing number of local residents are making the journey to Provision Center for Proton Therapy and spreading the word.
And it all started with Elvis.
That’s because Dick Guyton, executive director of Tupelo’s Elvis Presley Birthplace, was one of Provision’s very first patients, coming to the Knoxville, Tenn., center for treatment in the early months after Provision opened its doors after being diagnosed with prostate cancer in January, 2014.
“I said, ‘I don’t want to have surgery,’” Guyton said. “I found out what conventional radiation did to you, and that did it for me.” After learning about proton therapy from a church friend, he researched the treatment online and discovered Provision was the nearest center from his home. Proton therapy, which is suitable for nearly all forms of cancer, targets radiation at a tumor site without damaging surrounding healthy tissue, preventing unwanted side effects and secondary cancers.
“I’ve never seen a facility like Provision,” Guyton said. “The people were unbelievably kind and loving. They take you into the family, and we were part of the family.”
After his successful treatment, Guyton became an Ambassador for Provision and proton therapy, his position at Tupelo’s greatest claim to fame serving as a platform for him to spread the word. He appeared in local news reports, talking about his “radiation vacation,” in which he experienced few side effects and was able to maintain the activities of daily life.
One of those he convinced was Fred Jackson, news director for Tupelo-based American Family Radio, who was also for prostate cancer earlier this year.
“When the diagnosis did come, we had a chat with our urologist. He gave the option of removal of the prostate or traditional radiation, but he was not that familiar with proton therapy. The idea of surgery just didn’t seem practical because of all the potential side effects,” Jackson said. “My experience with Provision was just very, very positive. I just felt like I was in the hands of professionals. I have great respect for my urologist, but it’s so important to research for yourself.”
Joe Kilgo, also of Tupelo and lifelong friends with Dick Guyton, knew what his choice for treatment would be when he was diagnosed with cancer in February. He has some Elvis stories of his own, including, as a member of the national guard, serving as protection for the singer during a local concert as insatiable young women tried to storm the stage.
“It’s a state-of-the-art place,” Kilgo said the day of his treatment graduation this summer. “It’s just a blessing to be here.”