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Patient Stories

Teaming Up for Treatment

John’s Proton Therapy for Prostate Cancer

Like many Chicagoans, John and his wife like to get away from the cold weather. For 10 years, they went to Florida each winter. In 2016, the trip almost didn’t happen – John was suddenly facing surgery for prostate cancer. But his physician gave him the OK to travel and when he returned, he found himself on a path to proton therapy that would make a mark on his life in unexpected ways.

For many years, John had his prostate checked and would hear the same thing: slightly enlarged prostate, but soft and overall, safe. Then, one year, his primary care physician recommended he see a urologist. The urologist told him that his PSA number – a number commonly used to gauge prostate health – was concerning, and he scheduled John for a biopsy. When the biopsy came back, his physician told him that the cancer looked aggressive and while he would be fine to take his trip to Florida, afterward he should set a date for surgery.

In May 2016, John had surgery at Northwestern Medicine Delnor Hospital, where Michael A. Rashid, MD, a urologist with Illinois Urological Institute, removed his prostate by performing a robotic-assisted laparoscopic radical prostatectomy. This type of procedure is conducted specifically to treat high-grade, locally advanced prostate cancer. After the prostatectomy, however, his physician identified cancer cells extending beyond John’s prostate, and additional treatment was necessary. For treatment, Dr. Rashid knew that radiation therapy would be needed.

To ensure John was getting the best treatment for his condition, Dr. Rashid followed Northwestern Medicine’s multidisciplinary approach by referring John to William F. Hartsell, MD, the medical director of Northwestern Medicine Northwestern Medicine Proton Center in Warrenville, Illinois. John was invited to the center to speak with the care team about his cancer and history, Dr. Hartsell recommended treatment with proton therapy. Unlike traditional radiation therapy, proton therapy pinpoints tumors with precise doses of radiation, which reduces side effects and damage to surrounding healthy tissues such as the bladder and rectum. Northwestern Medicine Proton Center team formulated a plan for John that would include 39 proton therapy treatments: every day except weekends, for eight weeks.

Not only did the extensive collaboration of John’s physicians give him confidence, the caring and knowledgeable teams at Northwestern Medicine Proton Center gave him peace of mind during his next phases of treatment. They provided not just excellent care – guiding him through the treatment process from check-in and changing rooms through treatment and check-ups – they also developed a relationship.

“We would talk, but they never stopped their functions. The work they did, the effort they put into it, was just outstanding,” says John. “I don’t know how else to say it. They were as concerned with me as they would have been with someone in their own family.”

In the waiting room, John experienced a similar sense of welcome and camaraderie. Patients bonded in different ways: They would do crosswords together or work on puzzles, and chat about their days and lives. John had an 8:15 am time slot but found himself getting to the center around 7 am just to socialize before his treatment time.

When a patient completes treatment at Northwestern Medicine Proton Center, a graduation ceremony is held, complete with a diploma and speeches and he graduated in January 2017, and he He received a card signed by everyone who interacted with him.

This winter, John and his wife didn’t make it to Florida. Instead, they went to Hawaii. Thanks to the multidisciplinary approach of the physicians from Delnor Hospital and Northwestern Medicine Proton Center, his life is entirely changed. And with the collaboration and care he received from his physicians, how could it not be?