This adventure wouldn’t have been possible without the help of proton therapy to fight my prostate cancer.
When I was diagnosed with prostate cancer in April 2017, I was no stranger to the illness. My father, youngest brother, and four uncles all battled the same disease. I was faithful to annual exams and prescriptions from my urologist. But it wasn’t until I took notice of a slowly-increasing PSA that I had a jointly-decided biopsy.
I’ll never forget the phone call I received when the results came back. I was at lunch with a friend when my doctor told me, “You have prostate cancer.”
As a retired U.S. Navy Master Chief, I knew I had a mission. I got to work right away, devising a plan of attack for my diagnosis. My first two stops were to the Naval Hospital Jacksonville and one of its partner practices, Northeast Florida Cancer Institute, to talk through my treatment options. They recommended three different options: “nerve-sparing” surgery, photon radiation, and active surveillance.
My daughter convinced me that I could not just live with cancer inside of me and not take action. The treatment options I had been presented made me uneasy, so I decided to continue exploring.
At this point, no one I met with even so much as mentioned proton therapy. However, I had heard of the treatment from friends, shipmates, and Ackerman Cancer Center, a proton center in Jacksonville. One former Ackerman patient shared the center’s contact information with me, and I placed a call.
Imagine my surprise when Dr. Scot Ackerman himself answered the phone! Not only did he take the time to discuss my case, but he extended an invitation to come in for a visit. 30 minutes into my in-person meeting with Dr. Ackerman, I decided to seek proton therapy at Ackerman to treat my prostate cancer.
As a user of TRICARE PRIME since retirement in 1995, I needed a referral from a urologist to begin proton treatment. However, receiving that referral from the urologists I’d met with previously was a bit painstaking. Fortunately, patient support and my primary care doctor stepped in and agreed that I should be able to choose my treatment. He gave me the referral.
I began treatment at the Ackerman Cancer Center two weeks ahead of schedule, a thrilling and unexpected development. For me, that meant I was two weeks closer to being cancer-free.
My treatment took a total of 40 days. Once completed, I worked with the Ackerman staff, discussing “my” recovery in order to get back to “my” new normal, still dealing with an enlarged prostate.
During this time, I lost a sibling and my father within three months of each other. I met with Dr. Ackerman for my one-year follow-up, and he encouraged me to live out my dream of getting back on the road, something I’d talked so much about. Now, my wife and I are embarking on a cross-country RV trip!
Along with my mother, we are on one-month visits of a host of cities, including Austin, Albuquerque, Colorado Springs, Denver, Las Vegas, San Diego, Huntington Beach, and Ventura County. This adventure wouldn’t have been possible without the help of proton therapy to fight my prostate cancer.
Now that I’m cancer-free, I am dedicated to helping raise awareness of proton therapy for other cancer patients and supporting the Ackerman BEAM Team by helping other patients.
In addition to fair access to treatment, I’m using my experience to encourage other men to talk to their doctors about prostate issues. I’ve noticed that there tends to be a fear of prostate exams and talking about prostate cancer treatment options. As tough as these things may be to discuss, no one should die of ignorance.
I am so grateful that I was able to receive treatment from a great center and that I did not have problems getting coverage. Everyone should have the same access I had to doctor-recommended treatment.