Protons delivered for retired mail carrier

Early in his 37 years as a postal carrier, Ric Donnici walked a 15-mile route. Every day. It was a tough slog during the hot, humid summers of Missouri. And in blowing winter snows. But no mail route was as long as the steps Ric took for his first proton treatment in September 2013.

“I walked in there with my head down and with a deer-in-the-headlights look on my face,” Ric recalled. He knew protons were the right treatment for his prostate cancer. He had been inspired by long conversations with other proton patients. He had consumed the book, You Can Beat Prostate Cancer. And Ric and his wife had felt so welcomed weeks earlier during their first visit to ProCure Proton Therapy Center in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.

But now, it was real. For more than five years, Ric had watched and waited as his PSA levels swung between 3 and 5. A string of urologists treated the elevations as either an infection or as prostatitis, then Ric’s PSA would drop to 3 again.

In May 2013, a new urologist performed a biopsy and found cancer. In fact, cancer cells comprised 60 percent of several tissue samples. “He let me know that the time of watchful waiting was over,” Ric said. “Up until that point, I had always felt a certain invulnerability. These things happen to somebody else, not me. I was shocked. The fact that no one else had caught it. I felt that this guy had saved my life.” So, it was easy for Ric to agree to his urologist’s recommendation: prostate surgery. “I put my trust in him,” Ric said.

Unlike many other cancer patients, Ric said, he did not turn to the web to research everything there is to know about prostate cancer and prostate surgery. “I just shut down,” he said. “I couldn’t believe it.” But as the weeks passed and the day of Ric’s surgery grew nearer, he took to reading about the procedure  — and its potential side effects. “I wasn’t thinking about the incontinence or the possibility of rectal disfunction,” he said. “What was really bothering me was I would have to wear a catheter for a couple of weeks after. And if there was an infection, a couple of weeks more. I’ve had a catheter before. I didn’t want to do that again. And all this was getting me pretty worked up.”

Ric sought out his urologist to allay his concerns. He learned his doctor had left the practice and Ric’s surgery had been assigned to another urologist. “He looked like Doogie Howser to me and he told me, ‘I do hundreds of these,’” Ric said, frustrated that his questions about potential aftereffects of prostate surgery were being glossed over.

“I was at my wit’s end, “ Ric continued. “Lucky for me, Doogie Howser was not in my network. And surgery would cost me twice what I had expected.” Ric started to explore other treatment options. A close friend in Dallas, Texas, put Ric in touch with two guys who had had proton therapy.  “They both spent hours on the phone talking to me,” Ric said. “So that started me researching. I got on Proton Bob’s website and I read. It didn’t take me more than a couple of days to decide. And I cancelled my surgery.” Ric’s wife was relieved.

Walking into the proton center, Ric got cold feet. “All us men are just big babies when it comes to medical treatments,” he said. But the professionals at ProCure took great care to put Ric at ease. “After the first treatment, I said, ‘Is that it? Is that all there is to it?’” said Ric. “There was such a sense of relief. And after that, I started to talk with people. And made such incredible friends. I would see someone come in for his very first treatment with the same look that I had, and I’d go up to him to say, ‘Hey, this is a piece of cake.’”

Ric said he experienced no side effects from treatment. And that permitted him to exercise every day and join other patients on outings. “I also had my bike down there and I would go riding right after my proton treatments,” Ric said. “Who does that after surgery?”