My proton therapy treatment during the COVID-19 pandemic

After retiring from a 35-year career teaching and coaching at my dream job, I’d planned to spend time with my wife, Joanna, and enjoy my favorite activities — hunting, fishing and training my three Labrador Retrievers. Two months later, I was diagnosed with prostate cancer.

My prostate cancer diagnosis

After my brother was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2011, I started getting annual prostate cancer screenings. For years, my prostate-specific antigen (PSA) level was at a borderline level of 3.9, with no physical abnormalities.

But in July 2019, my PSA level jumped to 4.9.  Since a PSA level of 4.0 or higher is a possible sign of prostate cancer, I had a prostate biopsy in October 2019. The pathology initially showed a Gleason 6 cancer. At that point, my urologist suggested I seek prostate cancer treatment

My path to the MD Anderson Proton Therapy Center

I researched prostate cancer treatment options and reviewed the potential side effects for each one. I was interested in proton therapy because it often has fewer side effects.

Shortly after that, I met a cancer survivor in my hunting club who’d undergone proton therapy at MD Anderson. After hearing about his experience, I contacted MD Anderson and was scheduled for a consultation with Dr. Seungtaek Choi.

As soon as I walked into the Proton Therapy Center, everyone made me feel at home. Dr. Choi was incredible, too. He was very thorough, but he explained things in terms I could understand.

MD Anderson’s pathologists reviewed my biopsy again and found that it showed a Gleason 7 cancer. That meant the prostate cancer was more aggressive than we’d initially thought. 

After talking with Dr. Choi, I decided to undergo proton therapy.

My prostate cancer treatment at the Proton Therapy Center

I started my 39 proton therapy treatments on Feb. 17, 2020. Because I live in Houston, I was able to commute for treatments every morning. 

I met with Dr. Choi every Wednesday during my eight weeks of treatment. He and my care team told me from the beginning that I might have some side effects. So, when I noticed a dull ache and slow urine stream around week six, I knew to drink cranberry juice, which really helped.

I felt a bond with the other patients I met during my visits to the Proton Therapy Center. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, we gathered in the dressing rooms before treatment and told stories to help pass the time. Developing friendships with fellow prostate patients was the best part of my experience.

My proton therapy treatment during the COVID-19 pandemic

The last few weeks of my treatment were during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic. While a lot had changed, MD Anderson was prepared and had implemented a lot of precautions to protect patients and employees from the coronavirus. My treatments continued as usual, but I was screened for COVID-19 each time I entered the Proton Therapy Center. Everyone wore masks and practiced social distancing.

In order to ensure proper social distancing, only one patient was allowed in the dressing area at a time. I missed bonding with my fellow patients during that time, but we stayed in touch through texting and social media.

Throughout my treatment, I realized I wanted to give back to future patients. My radiation therapists suggested I volunteer by speaking to new prostate cancer patients and sharing my experience to ease their concerns. Once the COVID-19 pandemic improves, I plan on doing just that.

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