House inspector kept scaling roofs during prostate cancer treatment

For 13 years, no rooftop was too tall for George Groeber to climb and inspect. He’d figure out a way to get up there. He had to.

He knew families counted on him to be sure the biggest financial investment of their lives — a new home — was structurally sound and safe from top to bottom. And that they’re getting what they’re paying for.

When George was diagnosed with prostate cancer in October 2013, he wondered if he would ever retain the physical stamina to inspect houses in the city of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and its suburbs.

He was pretty confident he would lick his prostate cancer. It wasn’t that far along.

But the cancer treatment he was considering was another matter.

“The urologist that gave me the news promptly talked about robotic surgery,” says the 66-year-old resident of Newtown Square, Pennsylvania. “And that’s where it was left. Everyone I talked to in the beginning were surgeons. And they were pushing robotics.”

But George found that robotic surgery would require a lengthy recovery period. In fact, he wouldn’t be able to haul around a 120-pound, fiberglass ladder and scale pitched roofs for several months. “What am I going to do without my ladder,” George asks. “What am I going to do with no income?”

More troubling to George were the potential side effects. Incontinence, in particular. It would be a huge hindrance once he could return to his job.

“I’m hopping like Spiderman from one roof to another, balancing and taking pictures,” George says. “Time out. I have to go change my Depends while I’m way up on this roof. It would be a lot of discomfort and inconvenience.”

Proponents of robotic surgery who advised him “glossed over” the incontinence, says George. “‘There’s a potential for it,’ they said,” George recalls, imitating the dismissive tone they took. “But I researched the percentages and they were an instant turnoff for me. I’m on the road all the time. I’m heading out at 7:30 in the morning and I’m back home by 6:30 at night. I never imagined my work day would required me to wear — and change — a diaper.”

Radiation therapy attracted George’s notice. “A couple of articles my wife and I had downloaded listed all the different kinds of radiation treatments out there,” he says. “And I just kept coming back to proton radiation. It doesn’t kill as many good cells. The chance of side effects is less. And the thought of this beam going to this specific area and energizing that one spot…it’s a no-brainer.”

George obtained an information packet from Loma Linda University Medical Center’s Proton Treatment and Research Center in Loma Linda, California. It included a copy of Bob Marckini’s book, You Can Beat Prostate Cancer. “I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough,” George says.

He telephoned men who had received proton therapy at Loma Linda. And they all shared positive experiences similar to those Marckini describes in his book. Their personal endorsements and reassurance about few major side effects helped cement George’s choice.

And then, his decision was made all the sweeter when George found there was a proton center just a 25-minute drive from his home. “At Penn,” George says, the most respected medical center in all of Philadelphia.

“The moment I walked onto the fourth floor there and met with the fantastic staff, it was such a warm, welcoming feeling,” says George. “It just reassured me I was making the right decision.”

George began proton treatments at PennMedicine’s Roberts Proton Therapy Center in January 2014. He was treated in the morning and scampering up rooftops in the afternoon. “I didn’t miss a day,” George says. “I was thrilled to keep doing my job.”

But with 16 proton treatments remaining, “where they narrow the proton beam to where the cancer is most dense, they said I might get tired later in the day,” he says. “So, I’d just go back to my truck and have a 10-minute power nap and be recharged.”

In July 2014, three months after George’s final proton beam treatment, “I got the good news my PSA had dropped from 4.1 down to 2.1,” he says. “So, I’ve been kind of like doing somersaults and high-fiving my family. I’m not used to saying, ‘I’m a cancer survivor.’ But it sounds pretty damn good to hear that.”