Protons kept Washington State man in the saddle during prostate cancer therapy

Rich Braun has been commuting by bike to his job for seven years. In sun, rain and even snow. Forty-five minutes each workday morning, peddling a bit uphill, with the return trip a speedier 35 minutes.
It’s a ritual by which Rich abides all year long.

Come the weekend, Rich usually lets loose with a 50- or 60-mile trek. “Yeah, I live a pretty active lifestyle,” says the 60-year-old resident of Everett, Washington.

Diagnosed with prostate cancer in February 2012, Rich just assumed his daily commute on two wheels should stop during treatment at SCCA Proton Therapy, A ProCure Center, in Seattle, Washington. “I was kind of concerned,” Rich recalls. “I’m sitting on a bicycle, on this tiny seat right where my prostate is.”

A few days into his nine-week treatment, Rich mentioned to his radiation oncologist he had put his bike riding on hold. “But my doctor said to keep riding if I wanted to: ‘Do what you want to do.’”

So, Rich was back on his commuter bike the next day, heading in to work. And each workday at mid-morning, Rich’s wife would pick him up at his office and drive Rich to his proton beam treatments.

“The last day of my treatment, I took the day off and decided to ride there,” Rich recalls. “It’s like 20-something miles. I just showed up on my bike, and they were kind of in awe.” Rich’s active lifestyle — he also does a lot of cross-country skiing in winter — was a major consideration as he and his wife evaluated prostate cancer treatment options.

His urologist had proposed that his cancer be surgically removed later in the year. There was no urgency to act sooner. And he suggested Rich explore other alternatives such as seeds, hormone therapy and radiation. Protons were not mentioned.

One of the cancer specialists at a local hospital suggested Rich sit in on a support group meeting of prostate cancer patients. Those discussions really opened Rich’s eyes.

“I heard how it went for them,” Rich says. “The more I talked to people, the more I heard about the side effects. And I didn’t like them. Especially the incontinence. There were some guys who still did their workouts. But they just couldn’t do them at the same level as they did before their treatment. They had to be cognizant of not being able to hold it.”

Frustrated about his options, Rich decided to reach out to an old boss of his who had retired years earlier. “He’s someone I really respected,” says Rich. “I remembered he had prostate cancer and had gone away for a couple of months, so I wondered what he had gone away for. He told me he went down to Loma Linda for proton treatments. And he gave me the Proton Bob book.”

At last, Rich thought he may have settled on proton therapy. “Of course, you could have side effects,” he says. “But they just didn’t seem too bad. The only thing I didn’t like was having to go all the way to Loma Linda and be away for a couple of months.”

News about a new proton center being built on the campus of UW Medicine’s Northwest Hospital & Medical Center in Seattle changed everything. “I said, ‘I can wait for six months,’ ” Rich says.

Rich was the first patient in the door when SCCA Proton Therapy, A ProCure Center, opened in March 2013. His PSA was 10.7 when he started his treatments. It dropped to 2.5 once his proton treatments ended. More than a year later, Rich’s PSA is at 0.87.

In August, Rich will ride his 1970s-era road bike — much lighter in weight than his beast of a commuter bike — in the Obliteride cycling event to raise money for cancer research at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.