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Three Men Share their Protons & Prostate Stories

Three Men Share their Protons & Prostate Stories

It’s Prostate Cancer Awareness Month and we recently reached out to some of our prostate cancer survivors and asked them to share their experiences with us.

Rich Braun was one of the first patients we treated at the center, before our doors were even officially open. Dave Marquardt came to the Center from Gig Harbor in 2016 to get treatment for intermediate-risk prostate cancer. Frank Tarkington started his treatment a little over a year ago with Dr. Zeng. All three share their thoughts on proton therapy.

Rich and Dr. Ermoian ran into each other at a Seattle-to-Portland bike race.

Dave (#134) poses with the proton therapy team at the ZERO Cancer run and walk.

Frank poses with his radiation therapist at graduation.

Diagnosis and Discovering Proton Therapy

Frank panicked when he first learned about his diagnosis. In fact, he wondered if he’d have to make his final arrangements. Luckily, his doctor put him at ease. Dave was shocked and worried; he’d had many encounters with cancer in his family. Rich responded with tears – for about five minutes – then he took action.

Rich’s urologist arranged for further tests and gave him options – surgery, radiation, seeds. But Rich’s father had seeds, and the side effects were terrible. Rich thought there must be something different. He spoke to a friend who’d done a lot of research and chose proton therapy, so Rich looked into it at Loma Linda in California. Then he came across an article that mentioned the Center being built in Seattle. Since he had the time, he waited. He was ready to be consulted as soon as the Center took calls!

Frank first saw the Center when taking his wife for treatments at Northwest Hospital; he drove by it every time. His urologist had recommended radiation rather than surgery, but Frank decided to look into protons and made an appointment for a consultation. He liked the openness of the facility, the friendly people, and that Medicare covered it! 

Dave was more reluctant. He liked his surgeon and the radiation oncologist he’d gone to see at MultiCare in Tacoma. But his son urged him to check out this treatment he’d heard a lot of people talking about – proton therapy. His son persisted, and Dave gave the Center a call. He spent an hour and a half talking to our expert prostate cancer patient navigator. “He was wonderful,” Dave says. He was encouraged to contact other proton prostate patients, to ask questions about process and recovery. In all he spoke to six people, including Rich!

Experience at the SCCA Proton Therapy Center

All three survivors had a very positive experience at the Center, and appreciated the doctors and staff. “Dr. Fang’s a hoot,” says Rich. They talk about life and family when he’s come for follow up appointments, because he doesn’t have any symptoms or side effects. In fact, Rich says one of the things he thought was best was how easy treatment was.

Frank also found treatment to be exceedingly easy. “Like an inoculation without the shot!” He was very impressed with the technology, and he remembers the highly skilled staff.

“The quality of the people was amazing,” says Dave. He really enjoyed the radiation therapists—the “unsung heroes,” as he calls them. They were always positive, kind, encouraging and delighted to see him. He also appreciated being able to see his doctor, Dr. Liao, and his nurse every week. Though there wasn’t much to talk about – his side effects were practically nil – he liked the sense of comfort it gave him to be in touch with his care team on a regular basis.

Side effects for all three gentlemen were minimal.  Frank had concurrent ADT (androgen deprivation therapy) which caused some hot flashes. Dave tells people “I almost can’t tell that I’m having treatment.” Rich was actually a bit disappointed: he had been looking forward to being off work for three months, because in his line of work you have to be able to respond to oil spills when they happen. Instead he was able to commute to the Center from Everett by bike a couple times! He picked up cross-country skiing again quickly, too. Frank was able to continue doing small remodels on his house, cooking and trying new coffees. Dave continues to travel the world – from the San Juans, to Athens and Portugal.

Frank shared this poem with everyone at his proton therapy graduation.

Advice for Others Dealing with Prostate Cancer

The men say it’s important to get as much information as possible. “Talk to people. Do your research. Be proactive. No one cares about your health as much as you do,” says Rich. He joined a support group in Everett where he’s met a lot of other men with prostate cancer. Many had surgery or radiation, and most seemed to have some sort of side effect, such as different degrees of incontinence. “I can count on one hand the people who had other treatments (than protons) who didn’t have problems.” At his work he offered to talk to some colleagues who were diagnosed with prostate cancer, but they didn’t take him up on his offer. “They went with what their first doctor recommended, and now they can’t come back to work.”

Dave has also spoken with a lot of people who’ve had other treatments for prostate cancer. All were surviving well, that is to say they’re alive and feeling okay. But they each had stories. One man who had surgery almost bled out on the operating table. Two men reported severe incontinence or rectal problems. Some who chose hormone therapy also had bad side effects. Meanwhile, one 70-year-old who chose proton therapy is golfing every day.

Frank thinks everyone should at least check out proton therapy. “The technology is impressive, and to my understanding, there is less collateral damage to the body than photons. Plus it’s covered by Medicare if you have it.”

The cost of treatment with protons can be a deterrent. Dave’s urologist told him that protons were a rich man’s treatment, but Medicare and his supplementary insurance covered everything. At the Center, patients requiring insurance assistance can meet with a patient navigator to review their coverage. Whether it is Medicare or private insurance, our navigators help patients determine what is covered and how much they may have to pay.

The men have been going to both the monthly support groups and Prostate Club dinners at the Center. Rich has made about 80% of them since 2013! “It’s good to talk to others and see how they’re doing. It’s also an opportunity to meet people who are thinking about proton therapy treatment. I like it because I can share my experience and give back,” he says. It’s a good place to meet new friends as well. He and a fellow proton therapy patient he met in the group go fishing in Alaska every year!

Dave appreciates the monthly dinners because they frequently involve speakers who shed light on different aspects of treatment. He also enjoys the camaraderie, as does Frank. “You hear experiences from people going through the same thing,” says Frank. “That’s helpful.”

On the whole, the three men had very positive experiences with proton therapy and beyond. At the Center, we strive to provide each patient and graduated with the best possible experience and outcome. If you would like to join us for Prostate Club dinners, or if you have a story you’d like to share, please contact us at info@seattleprotons.org.