Prostate Cancer Patients Find New Road to Recovery in Florida

From the Southwest Orlando
By Debra Wood

When Gary Goetsch of The Hamptons learned he had prostate cancer, he was scared and not content to blindly follow his urologist’s advice to surgically remove the gland. He sought other options with fewer potential side effects and decided on proton therapy at the University of Florida Proton Therapy Institute in Jacksonville.

“Proton seemed the best by far of all the treatments, with less damage to surrounding tissues,” said Goetsch, 69, who read up on the various treatments and associated risks.

The proton beam, a high-dose radiation treatment, destroys cancer cells. Radiation oncologists can more precisely direct the beam to the prostate gland, sparing surrounding tissue. Conventional radiation travels through the body and exits the other side. Protons release most of their energy upon reaching the tumor.

“Data shows higher doses of radiation give the best result,” said Randal H. Henderson, M.D., M.B.A., associate medical director of the UF center. “With protons, you can give the higher dose with less risk.”

Goetsch’s daughter had received proton therapy at a center in California to treat a benign tumor growing near her brainstem. Rather than relearning to walk and talk again — the scenario doctors told her to expect if they surgically removed the tumor — she continued with her life, with minimal side effects. She suggested her dad check into it. He began investigating and learned about the UF center, one of only five in the United States.

Gary and Liberty Goetsch

Gary Goetsch of The Hamptons receives proton therapy at the University of Florida Proton Therapy Institute in Jacksonville to treat prostate cancer. He is pictured with his wife, Liberty.

“It was an opportunity,” Goetsch said. “I was thankful Jacksonville was close enough to drive to and stay during the week.”

The UF Proton Therapy Institute opened in 2006. It houses four proton gantries and conventional radiation therapy equipment, and can treat up to 150 patients per day. It is affiliated with the UF College of Medicine and UF Shands Cancer Center.

Doctors evaluated whether Goetsch was a candidate for the treatment, measured the exact depth and size of the tumor, and injected three markers into the gland to use during treatment to target the right spot. Workers at the institute helped him find temporary housing.

Proton Beam Radiation Treatment

The proton beam, a high-dose radiation treatment, is used to destroy cancer cells.

Goetsch began treatment this past January and spent two months living in Jacksonville Monday through Friday while he received daily treatments. Each session lasted between 20 and 30 minutes, with most of that time spent ensuring he was properly positioned in the unit.

A gantry moves around the patient and then stops to aim the beam at the precise points directed by the doctor. Multiple entry points allow delivery of the powerful beam from several angles.

“I had no pain whatsoever,” Goetsch said. “I joined a gym while I was up there and exercised. It was like taking an X-ray.”

Goetsch praised the nurses and doctors at the center and their upbeat attitude for making the treatment “a wonderful experience.” Medicare and his supplemental insurance covered nearly the entire cost of treatment.

“We are trying to create an environment where people can receive the best treatment and feel they are taken care of while there,” Henderson said.

The only side effect Goetsch developed was that the skin on both of his hips, where the proton beam passed, became reddened, like a sunburn.

“I feel great,” Goetsch said. “Everything is working fine. I have no after effects at all.”

Goetsch will follow up at the Jacksonville center every six months. He receives a Prostate Specific Antigen test, an indication of cancer’s presence, every three months. His most recent level was less than 1, compared to 6.2 when he finished treatment.

“There are some treatments that are almost miracles,” Goetsch said.

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