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Meet Don, Lung Cancer Survivor

Meet Don, Lung Cancer Survivor

Don Jackson is a dedicated teacher in Puyallup, Washington, who serves medically fragile special needs students. He is constantly inspired by the children he works with and firmly believes that they can teach so much about the value and joy of life. 

Four years ago, while at school, Don developed a persistent cough that began to disrupt his day. At first, believing it would pass, he continued on with his daily routine. However, after he began to cough up blood Don became a bit more concerned and went to the staff nurse at the school. Upon hearing of his symptoms the nurse immediately called for EMTs to take Don to the hospital for further examination. After several tests, Don was diagnosed with lung cancer.

Don immediately began a rigorous treatment schedule of chemotherapy and had multiple surgeries. Upon completion of his treatment plan, Don seemed to be doing better. However, after about a year his doctor discovered that his tumor had started to grow again. After another round of chemo and conventional radiation, things started to quiet down, but a three month checkup revealed that the tumor started to grow once again. It was at this cross road that Don was first introduced to proton therapy.

Don learned of SCCA Proton Therapy Center from his physician and met with one of the Center’s oncologists, Jing Zeng, MD. Dr. Zeng believed that Don was a good candidate for proton therapy treatment due to the location of the tumor and because he had already received conventional radiation to the area.  However, Don was met with disappointment when his insurance wouldn’t cover the treatment. Determined to ensure all patients have access to the care they need, the financial services team worked closely with Don and his insurance provider to eventually approve his treatment.

Don was optimistic about trying proton therapy because he knew the technology was innovative and he has heard positive reviews of both proton therapy and the Center.  Due to the location of the tumor, surgery was not possible and Don was grateful to have another path forward.

Don commuted daily from Puyallup to the Center for his treatment. During his time at the Center Don and his partner, Scott, formed friendships with some of the other patients. “You develop these friendships that you never would have been able to develop any other way,” shared Don. 

During his stay, he was also able to get to know some of the staff at the Center. “We were welcomed from the beginning and made to feel very comfortable. Cassidy, at the front desk, was very welcoming and it was like Scott and I were the only people on earth. It was very heartwarming at a time that is very difficult.”

Don continued to work halftime during his treatment, needing only to take time off due to the commute from Puyallup. He thanks his staff at his school for jumping in to assist during his time out.

After 30 consecutive treatments, Don finished his proton therapy in October of 2015 and is currently receiving chemotherapy. He looks forward to continuing his work with special needs children and his part time job and hobby of raising and showing pygmy goats. Don encourages those considering proton therapy to learn more about the Center and the treatment. In regards to his time at SCCA Proton Therapy Center he shared that it was a great experience for him during a tremendously difficult time of his life. He was pleasantly surprised by how caring the staff at the Center were and that their passion truly made all the difference.