October 31, 2011 2 Comments
Editor’s Note: John E. Phillips is the writer who works behind the scenes every week to share a hero’s story with you. But today we are sharing his own experience as John battled prostate cancer with the help of his family and physicians. John not only was successful in his fight against cancer, but he was also able to continue working as a an outdoor sports writer throughout his treatment process. We sincerely hope that what you learn from John’s experience may help you, your friends and/or your family members in the ongoing battle to fight and prevent deaths from prostate cancer. Part 5 of a 5-part series.
One in six men in the United States will have prostate cancer, and more than 65% of all prostate cancers are diagnosed in men over the age of 65. Through John E. Phillips’ 5-month odyssey, he learned that prostate cancer doesn’t have to be a death sentence, and the treatment for it doesn’t have to hurt or have severe side effects.
If your prostate cancer is discovered early, treatment doesn’t have to be a major discomfort or interfere with your life. However, all prostate cancer isn’t the same, and the same treatment isn’t recommended for everyone. The more you know about the diagnosis and the treatment of prostate cancer not only can save your life but also offset many of the fears and the concerns you’ll have after your initial diagnosis.
How TomoTherapy Works
“We’ve got 5-years worth of follow-up data on the patients we’ve treated with TomoTherapy, and we’ve learned it’s an effective way to treat prostate cancer, usually with far-fewer side effects than other forms of radiation,” Dr. John Fiveash explained to my daughter and me.
“Before each treatment, patients are given a CT scan, so that the radiation therapist can see the position of the prostate, which can move, see the areas that need to be radiated and line-up the machine, so that it radiates the prostate. Radiation is sent from several different directions and targeted specifically on the prostate. This way you have fewer side effects because you’re radiating smaller areas more precisely. Most of our patients can continue their daily work. I recommend you have 28 treatments, one treatment a day, 5 days a week. And, I expect you’ll be able to continue on with your daily work,” Dr. Fiveash said.
When I explained my schedule to Dr. Fiveash, and we saw that there was a 3-week gap between the SHOT Show and the 2010 Bassmaster Classic taking place, and then I didn’t have too-many commitments after the first of March, since most of my planned turkey hunting would take place toward the end of March – the end of April, my daughter said, “Dad could start the Monday after the SHOT Show ends. If he could get his treatments in the mornings, he still could work the Bassmaster Classic the third week in February. He’d be finished with his treatments before his planned turkey hunts.” Dr. Fiveash grinned and said, “That’ll work.”
After 1-1/2-hours of intensive questioning by my daughter, I’m sure Dr. Fiveash thought he’d experienced an interrogation much like a suspect would experience who’d been caught by the police outside a bank with a bag of money, wearing a mask and carrying a pistol.
However, when we left his office, my daughter observed, “Dr. Fiveash knows his stuff, Dad. He’s on the cutting edge of cancer research and treatment. I can’t believe we’ve found someone like him here in Birmingham. I definitely think you ought to do TomoTherapy with him. This type of treatment should let you do everything you want to do. It shouldn’t make you sick, you shouldn’t hurt, and it should kill the cancer cells in your prostate. And, Dr. Fiveash has the research to prove it.”
After my daughter talked to her husband (the doctor), and my son and my wife talked with her and her husband, my family agreed that this is the treatment I should use for my prostate cancer. My next big concern was, “What are they going to do to me?”
What Having TomoTherapy Was Like
My wife had breast cancer more than 25-years ago and was radiated for her cancer. She was burned and terribly weak, but she came out of the process cancer-free and glad she could be treated, as we all were. I had known other people who’d had radiation and had side affects that I wasn’t looking forward to experiencing.
I was somewhat apprehensive, even though Dr. John Fiveash, my family and my close friend Barry Smith (who had had TomoTherapy for his cancer the year before) said that I probably wouldn’t have an side effects other than fatigue at the end of my treatment.
When I went to the Kirklin Clinic for the first time, I really didn’t know what to expect. The radiation therapist asked me to, “Strip from your waist down, and put on a hospital gown.” Then I was led into a room where a cast was made of both of my legs from the knees down. I explained that I didn’t have a broken leg, but that I had prostate cancer.
The kind therapist explained that this cast would be used to make sure that I was straight in the TomoTherapy machine, and that my body was lined-up perfectly every time I was given radiation. The therapist also said, “Now we need to put three small dots on the lower part of your stomach. We’ll use these dots to help line-up the rest of your body to make sure we get you straight in the machine. We can do this with an indelible marker, but it may wash off. Most people opt for three small tattoos that will be permanent and won’t wash off.”
When I asked him, “What’s the best and the easiest?” he replied, “The tattoos, which will be so small that you and no one else will notice them.” I answered, “Okay, but I don’t want a tattoo of a naked lady, a bulldog or a sailing ship.” We both laughed, and I got the tattoos.
When I started radiation, each day I’d sign-in, walk to the men’s dressing room, put on my hospital gown and usually go straight to the TomoTherapy machine. Someone asked me what the TomoTherapy machine looked like, and I compared it to a can of spinach. “The therapist rolls me into this cylinder on a table, I get my treatment, and I come out feeling like Popeye.”
I was put inside a large cylinder (the TomoTherapy machine) where I got a CT scan first of all. The radiation therapist, after looking at my prostate on the scan, would return to the room and then using the CT scan as a guide line-up the machine and me for my treatment.
The actual treatment seemed to take less than 2 minutes. From the time I walked in the door until I left usually took a maximum of 45 minutes. Now that I’ve completed my TomoTherapy radiation, I almost feel kind of guilty because I haven’t had any discomfort, but I am so thankful.
The worst day I had at radiation therapy was one morning after I’d put on my hospital gown and started out of the dressing room toward the Tomo machine. But I was stopped and couldn’t move. I didn’t know what the problem was. I’d never experienced anything like this, since I’d been going to the Kirklin Clinic. However, for some reason, I couldn’t move forward.
When I finally looked over my shoulder, I saw that I’d slammed the door of my locker on the tail of my hospital gown, and the gown was stuck in the door, keeping me from moving forward. But after I opened the door and got the tail of my gown out of the locker, everything else went fine at therapy (grin).
Seriously, the only side effect I experienced was a slight burning (not bad – just noticeable) when I urinated. The therapist suggested that if I didn’t like to drink cranberry juice that I take cranberry pills – something we didn’t know even existed. Once I started taking the cranberry pills, within only a couple of days, that slight irritation went away.
The other side effect occurred when during the last 2 weeks of my treatment I didn’t feel like going out and walking a 5K like I normally did several times a week. However, my longtime friend Barry Smith, who had had the TomoTherapy, last year, assured me that, “For about 2 weeks after therapy, I didn’t feel like exercising. But then I went right back to my exercise program and haven’t had any ill effects since my therapy. My PSA test dropped dramatically, and I haven’t had any problems with waking up at night to go to the bathroom.”
Back during the summer months, our son decided that his mother and I needed to lose weight, build-up our stamina and get healthier, after our extended family experienced several cancer scares. As a PE teacher and a coach who has studied extensively what’s required to be healthy, he volunteered to become our personal trainer and signed us up to do a 5K walk during February, while he participated in a marathon.
When we realized that the walk would occur right in the middle of my TomoTherapy treatment, our son, who had paid his own money for our entry fees to cheer us on, said, “Dad, you don’t have to worry about doing the 5K walk. I know you’re having radiation and probably won’t feel like doing it.”
I looked him square in the eyes and explained, “Son, since you paid $50 of your own hard-earned money to sign me up, I’m going to be in that 5K, even if I have to crawl.” But surprisingly enough, I didn’t have any problem with completing the 5K walk, and I’ve got the T-shirt to prove it!
Of course, I realize that TomoTherapy may not be for everyone. And, I know that everyone’s cancer is not the same. However, I haven’t missed a day of work or a day of hunting and fishing because of my prostate cancer. Now that it’s completed, I want to urge you if you have prostate cancer or other forms of cancer to consider TomoTherapy.
But don’t take my word for it or Barry Smith’s. Do your own research as my family, friends and I did, and learn whether TomoTherapy may be for you. While I was at the TomoTherapy clinic, I met patients there being treated for many types of cancer, including brain cancer, back cancer, throat cancer and others I know nothing about. The ones I talked to believed as I did – that TomoTherapy was the most-painless and most-effective type of radiation treatment we could get.
For more information on Dr. John Fiveash, go to www.uabradonc.com; to learn more about UAB’s Comprehensive Cancer Center, visit www3.ccc.uab.edu/; for more information on TomoTherapy, check-out www.tomotherapy.com; to learn more about John’s urologist, Dr. Rodney Dennis, visit www.urologycentersalabama.com.
About the Author: For the last 12 years, John E. Phillips of Vestavia, Alabama, has been a professional blogger for major companies, corporations and tourism associations throughout the nation. During his 24 years as Outdoor Editor for “The Birmingham Post-Herald” newspaper, he published more than 7,000 newspaper columns and sold more than 100,000 of his photos to newspapers, magazines and internet sites. He also hosted a radio show that was syndicated at 27 radio stations; created, wrote and sold a syndicated newspaper column that ran in 38 newspapers for more than a decade; and wrote and sold more than 30 books. Learn more at http://www.nighthawkpublications.com