During a 32-mile run that traverses three 6,000-foot balds in the Western North Carolina mountains, Doug realized a unique parallel — he had just completed his 32nd proton therapy treatment for prostate cancer.
A quick check of the list of side effects for traditional radiation therapy quickly reveals why an extreme run in the middle of that type of cancer treatment would not be recommended. They include incontinence, abdominal cramping, diarrhea, and fatigue – just to name a few.
That’s why Doug chose proton therapy, which is more precise than traditional radiation and lowers the risk of side effects during treatment. But even knowing the benefits, Doug was pleasantly surprised that he felt well enough to complete what became an annual tradition with a few friends and his son.
“I really didn’t expect to be doing this much after this many treatments,” he said. “I kind of expected it was going to be a lot harder, but it hasn’t been.”
In addition to the short-term benefits, proton therapy also reaps rewards for patients after treatment. Many patients choose proton therapy to avoid long-term side effects that often accompany surgery, brachytherapy, or traditional radiation. In a survey of prostate cancer patients, those who chose proton therapy reported much lower rates of incontinence and impotence compared to those who opted for other treatments.
Doug launched his career as an ultra-marathoner in his 50s, initially to support his teenage son who had started cross-country training.
“I would say, ‘Go running.’ He would say, ‘I don’t feel like it.’ And I would say, ‘Let’s go run,’” Doug said. “After two miles I almost threw up.”
He persisted, and after a few months found himself genuinely enjoying the activity.
Doug says he often finds himself alone in his age group, or duking it out with a couple of others. During his treatment, he maintained his regular running schedule. The fact that he realized he ran 32 miles following the same number of treatments was simply coincidence, an observation he enjoyed sharing with his friends.
And then Doug just kept running.