The two-month recovery from surprise gallbladder surgery was no picnic for Jim Rauner. No picnic at all. And he was due for a second major procedure: robotic surgery to remove his prostate.
“I cancelled it,” said the 65-year-old former stationery store owner from Boonton, New Jersey. The prospect of another long, painful recovery was just too much for him. “I decided somewhere during that period of time that I was going to start investigating some other treatment options,” he added.
Up until then, Jim had zero awareness of proton therapy. “On the Internet, I never saw anything about proton therapy at the time,” he recalled. “I didn’t stumble upon it.” And none of the physicians with whom Jim spoke ever broached it.
“Everybody tells you the same thing,” said Jim. “The basics are the basics about what cancer treatment options are available and about the side effects after treatment. Incontinence and impotence. That’s it.“If you’re between 60 and 70, you have three choices,” Jim continued. “You can remove the cancer. You can have radiation treatments. Or you can watch it. And I eliminated the ‘watch it’ because I am not that kind of person.”
One morning while listening to WABC radio during his recovery after gallbladder surgery, Jim heard a local advertisement on the “Imus in the Morning” program. It was an ad about the ProCure Proton Therapy Center in nearby Somerset, New Jersey. “Just a 22-minute drive from here,” Jim remarked, adding a common New York City metro area qualifier, “without traffic.”
The radiation oncologist there spent about an hour and a half talking with Jim. Recovery from proton treatments would probably not be as painful as recovery from surgery. And side effects such as impotence and incontinence, while possible, were much less likely with protons.
After returning home, Jim went to the Internet and googled “proton therapy.” “I read the explanation of why protons worked better and oh, my God, it made sense,” he said. Jim ended his search for treatment options. He was going with protons.
Still, Jim acknowledged, “There’s anger. There’s fear. And you have this unknown factor in your life that you didn’t expect. You have cancer.”
Considering his difficult recovery after the gallbladder operation, Jim was surprised at how normal he felt after receiving his first dose of protons in February 2013. “I didn’t have any problems,” he said.
And for a time, Jim continued his part-time retail job. But about midway through his nine weeks of proton treatments, fatigue set in and he had to stop working.
“I’d come home after my treatment, walk the dog and then the dog and I would take a long nap,” said Jim. “The fatigue was the biggest side effect. I didn’t think I could sleep as much as I did. It took a good nine months before I felt like my old self. ”
Jim’s lingering fatigue, doctors at ProCure noted, occurs infrequently among proton patients. Other side effects like impotence and incontinence, so common among prostate patients who’ve had surgery or photon radiation, didn’t happen to Jim.
“The getting over the fatigue took longer than I expected,” Jim said. “But every day, I felt progressively better. And I never doubted the effectiveness of the treatment. I knew I would come out of it with no cancer.” Prior to beginning proton therapy, Jim’s PSA had climbed steadily to 4 over a five-year period. Today, it is 0.8.