Proton beams are just the catch for fisherman fighting prostate cancer

This month, 65-year-old Doug Neal will be setting out with his commercial fishing partner for the blue waters of the Gulf of Alaska to catch black cod. The same as he’s done nearly every May since he was 14.


“Between the two of us, we’ll catch 55,000 pounds,” Doug said. “My buddy’s already made one trip. I imagine we can get our quotas in one more trip out there.”


Doug is grateful his friend has invited him aboard for the week-long trip. Doug used to captain his own 52-foot vessel, fishing for black cod, halibut and salmon from March to September and delivering his haul to buyers in Juneau and Sitka, Alaska.


But he sold his boat a few years ago to tend to his kids following the death of his wife. “She had kept the family together while I was fishing in Alaska,” Doug said.


After being diagnosed with prostate cancer in October 2013, Doug had assumed the worst.


“My kids were worried about whether I’m going to be there,” said Doug. “But I also had a whole bunch of friends and relatives who had had prostate cancer and they’re not here. And they all thought they were going to make it.”


Male friends of Doug’s age were coping with the same diagnosis, he recalled. “And they were running in all different directions for treatment,” he said. “Surgery, da Vinci®, CyberKnife®, radiation, radiation pellets.”



Doug was introduced to a man from Alaska who had traveled to the East Coast for prostate surgery. “They told him they didn’t get it all and he’d have to come back for another surgery,” Doug said. “And he was ticked. So, he went to Loma Linda and Loma Linda took care of it without surgery. They used protons. So, he had gone through both. Surgery and protons. And he became a big proponent of protons.”


Prostate cancer is different from one man to another, Doug noted. “But in my situation I decided to go to a cancer center that had all the treatment options and, with the doctors, decide what’s best for me.”


Doug travelled 2,300 miles from his home in Everett, Washington, to the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas. Doctors there performed tests and considered Doug’s circumstances. They and Doug agreed that proton beams in combination with hormone therapy would be the best approach.


Potential treatment side effects were a huge issue for Doug. “I hadn’t heard anybody complain about the side effects of proton therapy,” he said, “but I’ve heard lots about the others.”


Doug began his treatments in November 2013. They were completed in March 2014. He’ll be returning to Houston in June for his first follow up.


But first, he’ll be out fishing the Gulf of Alaska. “On a good day, you’re all worn out. You’re beat. You’ve been busy from daylight to dark,” Doug said. “But on a good day, you can make as much as a doctor or a lawyer. It’s like Reno. But the odds are better.”


“This time of year,” he added, “it’s cold and windy. Maybe the hot flashes from my hormone treatments will come in handy.”