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 okay 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.

John is the first to admit that many men don’t exactly enjoy the prostate screening experience, but for many years, John would get checked and 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 doctor 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 was conducted specifically to treat high grade, locally advanced prostate cancer. After the prostatectomy, however, his doctor identified cancer cells extending beyond John’s prostate, and additional treatment was necessary. For treatment, it was a combination of hormones and radiation where John received a shot of leuprolide, a chemical that reduces the testosterone that stimulates the prostate cancer cells. Dr. Rashid knew that in order to effectively treat John’s tumor, radiation therapy would be the way to go.

To ensure John was getting the best treatment for his condition, Dr. Rashid followed Northwestern Medicine’s multi-disciplinary approach by referring John to Dr. Hartsell for postoperative radiation treatment. William F. Hartsell, MD is the medical director of the Northwestern Medicine Chicago Proton Center in Warrenville, Illinois, and, in short order, 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 radiotherapy, proton therapy pinpoints tumors with precise doses of radiation. The advanced precision that proton therapy offers reduces the risk of side effects and damage to surrounding healthy tissues such as the bladder and rectum. The Chicago 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 the Chicago Proton Center gave him peace of mind during his next phases of treatment. They provided not just the utmost care – guiding him through the treatment process from check-in and changing rooms through treatment and check-ups –they also became close confidants.

“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. Everyone is going through something and the patients bonded in different ways. They would do crosswords together or work on puzzles. They would chat about their days and lives. John had an 8:15 a.m. time slot but found himself getting to the center around 7 a.m. just to socialize before his treatment time.

John graduated from the Chicago Proton Center in January 2017 – and it is a graduation, complete with diplomas and speeches. 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 the Chicago Proton Center, his life is entirely changed now. And with the collaboration and care he received from his physicians, how could it not be?