When Terry first felt a small growth the size of a pinkie fingernail on his neck, he dismissed it as a harmless cyst. Two weeks later it had doubled into the size of a thumb nail and then doubled again the following week. Still, he did not seek medical help.
“I’m in medical sales,” said Terry. “I should have known better.”
Finally, his daughter-in-law, who is a nurse, convinced him to take action. So, over a weekend, he went to the emergency room to get it checked out.
“On Tuesday, they said, ‘You have cancer,’” said Terry, and biopsies followed. In the meantime, the tumor grew to nearly the size of a softball before he began chemotherapy to shrink the large mass, which was 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 said. “But the long-term side effects from radiation were crazy.”
Not only was Terry likely to require a feeding tube at some point during treatment due to peripheral damage from radiation, but he could also permanently lose his salivary gland function and sense of taste. Chemotherapy combined with radiation, which he required, could exacerbate the symptoms. Terry and his wife, Trina, saw one throat cancer patient without his bottom teeth, another with a tracheotomy. On top of that, Terry was jarred by an offhanded remark from a radiation oncologist that traditional treatment could contribute to plaque buildup in his coronary artery.
“Heart disease has been an issue in his family,” said Trina.
Desperate for alternatives, Terry remembered a newspaper article he’d seen just weeks earlier about Provision CARES Proton Therapy coming to his town, Franklin, Tennessee.
“We started researching tremendously,” said Terry.
However, his doctors were skeptical. “In fact, one was strongly against it,” said Trina. “They said, ‘There’s not enough data.’”
But after speaking to survivors who’d undergone proton therapy, as well as those who’d endured the collateral damage of traditional radiation, they were convinced protons could accomplish what other radiation could not. When Terry and Trina, who personally support a number of cancer causes, learned that St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital had also invested in proton therapy, they were ready to move forward with treatment at Provision.
“We are strong supporters of St. Jude and know what a top facility it is,” Trina said. “That was pretty much it.”
In the same day, they met with a board-certified Radiation Oncologist at Provision, then met another radiation oncologist who advocated for traditional radiation therapy.
“You have to be your own advocate,” shared Terry, who ultimately chose to come to Provision for his treatment.
While Terry’s insurance company originally denied his claim, he did file an appeal, and the couple decided proton therapy was worth the cost, even if they had to pay. Terry had spoken with a prostate cancer survivor who’d paid for proton therapy out-of-pocket. Terry said when he asked him, “If you had cancer again, would you pay out-of-pocket again?” the answer was, “Yup, I sure would.”
“I’ve lobbied for healthcare products in Washington,” Terry said. “I realized a long time ago that there’s a lot of things out there that work, but there are also a lot of forces out there, like drug companies and insurance companies, that influence what gets covered.”
Their time at Provision only further convinced the couple 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 said. “That makes you feel even more like we’re in the right place.”