Whether a career change or cancer treatment, Bill Raffield is the kind of man who goes for what he wants.


That included treatment for prostate cancer.

Raffleld started out with a B.S. in physics and a career in the Air Force where he planned and evaluated instructional systems for the military’s intercontinental ballistic missiles program during the Vietnam War. He became a captain, serving as combat crew commander and wing instructor and discovered he enjoyed “arranging resources to accomplish the mission,” he said. “At the time, I didn’t know what that was called, but in business, that’s operations.”

After his military career ended, Raffield didn’t settle into the field he had chosen but embarked in a new direction, starting out as a territory sales manager for Michelin Tire and ending up management and operations for Truckstops of America and Universal Tire.

“I tended to say, ‘I’m going to do what fits me,” he said.

While in the military he had earned a master’s degree in public administration and later he received a doctorate in industrial management with an eye toward another goal: teaching.

Since 1991, he has been at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minn., where he has served as business professor, Director of the school’s Division of Business and Senior Associate Dean of the business college. Six years ago he chose to leave his administrative positions to return to teaching as an associate professor of operations and supply chain management.

“I tend to rebel at being painted into a corner,” Raffield said.

Seeking an alternative cancer treatment

That mindset help Raffield look closely at all his options when diagnosed with prostate cancer after his PSA levels began an upward climb last year. His brother-in-law, who lives in Knoxville, had had proton therapy for prostate cancer three years prior, so Raffield knew something about the treatment. He also knew that with an active career and family life, including grandchildren who live nearby, he didn’t want to struggle with the side effects that came with other treatment options such as surgery and brachytherapy.

Traditional treatments such as surgery, conventional radiation therapy and brachytherapy come with a number of undesirable side effects. These include incontinence and impotence due to damage of healthy surrounding tissues and organs that enable these important functions.

Proton therapy represents an advanced form of radiation therapy that uses a beam of high-energy protons to treat various forms of cancer. Unlike conventional radiation therapy, in which x-ray beams deposit most of their energy into the healthy tissue prior to entry and upon exit of the tumor site, the protons can be better controlled, allowing most of the energy to be deposited directly into the tumor. This reduces damage to nearby healthy tissue.

“My brother-in-law was amazed at how little impact there was in terms of side effects and everything else. Several friends elected to do brachytherapy and experienced significant side effects from the treatment. With surgery, a lifetime of incontinence and impotence was no deal,” he said. “But first and foremost was the cure rate for proton therapy—as good or better than anything else out there. Putting it all together, it was pretty clear proton was the way to go.”

Although Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., had recently opened, Raffield opted for Provision CARES Proton Therapy Center. The Knoxville center had been open longer. Nearby family afforded a shorter daily commute (Rochester is a 100 mile trip from Raffield’s home in Forest Lake, Minn.) A Provision offered a one-time hydrogel injection as an alternative to a balloon, inserted daily into the rectum of prostate patients prior to treatment for protection from radiation exposure.

“The hydrogel was icing on the cake,” he said.

While the time away from his wife and grandchildren in Minnesota was difficult, Raffield said he appreciated Provision’s support system of employees and the patients he met along the way.

“It’s a happy place,” he said. “I came down here two weeks after my diagnosis, and I was just blown away by the culture and atmosphere of Provision. That sealed the deal. I just felt at home there.”