Treated 2012 · Posted 2012
"Cancer no longer has to be the destroyer of lives and families. Cancer can bring about the possibility of a life changing experience physically, mentally and spiritually, and of course it can be beaten."
The roots of my journey to Loma Linda began about 35 years ago when I was just 15. One night as my younger brother and I readied for wrestling practice, my mother came up the stairs from the garage and she was crying. We asked what was wrong and she said simply ‘your father is dying of cancer' and then locked herself in her room. What followed for my dad was 4 years of steady decline, terrible suffering, and then eventually him losing his battle at the age of 51 weighing only 75 pounds, and sporting a colostomy bag where the x-ray radiation had literally burned a hole in the side of his abdomen.
That experience changed me and my family forever. Within a year, my two brothers had moved away never to return home, and I to California with my mother who a few months later committed suicide. My father's cancer claimed two lives. The rest of my family were scarred so deeply by this that my brothers and I would never come back together to this day.
My father's mother had also died of colon cancer just before I was born. I grew up viewing cancer as the destroyer of families and lives, and as I got older the clock of inevitability began ticking in the back of my young mind. Over the next 35 years I didn't fear cancer but knew it was less of a question of if as one of when. As I reached and passed the mid-40's age when my father was first diagnosed, the ticking got louder.
Then, after a routine physical, the PSA test (the first I had in several years) came back at 8.8 and I pretty much knew instantly that I had cancer. We went through the motion of taking antibiotics to prove it wasn't prostatitis. I then had a second PSA test and the result (8.2) led to the biopsy, but I knew all the same without the biopsy - it was my destiny.
At that point, the main thought on my mind was less my own mortality and having cancer, but an overwhelming sickness and fear of putting my family through the same kind of experience that I had endured as a kid. A teenager just isn't wired to deal with the reality of cancer and suicide. With 3 children (two daughters aged 3 and 14, and a 17 year old son), and a beautiful wife, I feared history repeating itself, destroying my still young family as well.
Once I talked to the urologist, who of course recommended immediate da Vinci surgery, and some initial research, I was pleased to learn more about early stage, slow growing prostate cancer having relatively good survival prospects. Although comforting to know I can battle this cancer and probably beat it, it was almost immediately tempered by some of the horror stories I uncovered relative to side effects and the potential impact on quality of life.
The more I learned about the side effects of surgery the more my anxiety began to rise. Facing the real possibility of impotence and incontinence at 50 years of age was more than unsettling. I looked for alternatives and found Cryotherapy, HiFU, IMRT, Brachytherapy and even the nerve sparing surgery seemed to paint only slightly a more optimistic picture. In the end, it all appeared to be a game of chance with anywhere from 25-50%+ of patients simply ending up as one of the unlucky ones with permanent quality of life issues.
As I switched my searches from prostate cancer "treatment" to prostate cancer "cures" it was not long before I found references to a cure for prostate using protons, Bob's book, and eventually Loma Linda University Medical Center. My confidence grew as I discovered the silver lining in this storm cloud that I had so dearly needed. I have the same tale as most where my primary care physician, urologist and radiation oncologist(X-ray only) were all negative, if not outright hostile, towards my interest in protons.
I have had 2 (no kidding) near death experiences in my life and both times I felt the hand of God intervening to literally reach out and save me. As I read more and more about Loma Linda I started to sense that same feeling deep within me, that I was being guided not only to protons but to Loma Linda specifically.
I am inspired that LLUMC is an openly Christian institution. Loma Linda provides extensive extracurricular activities beyond just the protons to treat the whole patient. I participated in weekly pot lucks, both large and small support groups, speaker tours, facility tours and restaurant tours with my fellow patients and their wives. Speakers provided the history of LLUMC, the story of Dr. Slater building his proton center dream; and hearing this one can't help but see the hand of God has been active here since LLUMC's inception. The future plans for this place indicate God isn't leaving here any time soon. Although I know this may be read by BOB brothers and prospective members who will be treated elsewhere and place on the road to a cure, I will be open with my bias. Protons may be protons, but there is only one LLUMC. While there, some of the people I have met have told me I am too young to be here (I look younger than my now 51). In reply, I think I am too young to be anywhere else.
The receptionists, the doctors and the technicians are just great people who live by the values and work to make man whole. Even during the first treatment, despite its reputation, I didn't find the balloon experience too terrible, that is however, up and until the point that I felt the technician's wristwatch - I didn't know I was capable of a triple gainer with a half twist dismount from a lying position in my pod, but I was. The three techs gave me two 9's and a perfect 10.
Dr. Lynn Martell is a very special man, who is dedicated to making a difference in the lives of the patients here. He always stressed how important it was to participate in the Drayson fitness center activities, the potlucks, the Wednesday support group and speakers, the Worship and the Thursday restaurant tours because they are each critical components of the healing process. He couldn't have been more correct. There are many things that make LLUMC more than just a cyclotron and a bunch of computers that can kill cancer. I am just so thankful for the people I met and established relationships with, and the truly unique opportunity the "Loma Linda way" provides. I thank Lynn Martell and Carol Davis who lead the weekly patient only support group; they are the glue that keeps the entire healing process alive and well.
When you think about it, the program at LLUMC provides us with a truly unique opportunity. This is truly the only time in our lives where we face a real life crisis, and everyone we interact with, either has a God given compassion for our care, or shares the exact same crisis, at the same time, with the same concerns, questions and needs. There are cancer support groups all over the country, but this is a community, a lifestyle, a fraternity of sorts where in just 2 months roots grow so deep you become changed. The only regret I have is the knowledge that so many men come down to LLUMC and either stay alone in their apartment or are local and drive home every day after treatment not realizing that they have only been partially treated.
I believe God brought me to this LLUMC for this reason. I experienced such a growth process in 9 short weeks. It really is like 3 totally different semesters - the first three weeks it is a huge adjustment being away from home starting a new treatment and drawing on those further along in the process; the second 3 weeks you are into the grove as a veteran to both the treatment and the lifestyle, but the end still seems a long way off; and in the final three weeks you are a short timer. I found an almost overwhelming desire at about the half-way point to shift my focus from myself to the other men down here. I felt driven to lend support, a sense of humor, to answer questions, and help reduce anxiety to the other men and their wives. As I leave LLUMC I will bring this new perspective and mission with me.
I feel like a changed man, and I encourage anyone who reads this to try to envision how important an experience this could be for you too. There was a time when it looked like I would not have insurance coverage for proton therapy and to self-pay was beyond my means. I don't know where I would be today if I had opted for the daily 2 hour commute in traffic to receive IMRT, then jump in my car alone and return home every day. The outcome would not have been the same regardless of whether or not the cancer was killed and the side effects manageable. For those of you who are not believers I would ask you to open your heart to the possibility; maybe during your 9 weeks, a door that has been closed just might open.
I worked full time while being treated and attempted to keep this as a secret from all but my boss and few at my company who had a need to know. By the end, I was so changed, that just before graduating I sent a message out to many of my colleagues letting them know what I had gone through, my prospects for full recovery, with little to no side effects, and a plea to be there for some other friend, family member or co-worker who might be facing this crisis in the future. Giving the gift of awareness and experience with proton beam therapy and on top of it my bias for LLUMC may be the best gift I can ever give someone else.
I now leave here with a new outlook. Cancer no longer has to be the destroyer of lives and families. Cancer can bring about the possibility of a life changing experience physically, mentally and spiritually, and of course it can be beaten. I feel a different sense of compassion for all medical patients, and I have Loma Linda and this program to thank for it. As I depart I do have to highlight a major side effect that tends to kick in during the final week. You may not have been told by your doctor, but be prepared, as you approach graduation date you will each have to deal with the serious side effect of … longevity!
I now look forward to sharing the next 30 years with my loving wife, Rachelle, and my kids. Thank God for Drs. Slater and to the prospect of having this outcome a reality.
Holden Markle, Holden@hp.com
Holden and his family at Yosemite: