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UAB Proton Therapy Center is a Game-Changer for Cancer Patients

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Editor’s note: Alabama resident Jay Elliott wrote this article shortly before the March 2020 opening of Proton International at UAB, which is part of the O’Neal Comprehensive Cancer Center at UAB. Instead of traditional X-ray radiation, the new facility uses protons to better target cancer cells while minimizing the impact on healthy surrounding tissue and organs. As one of only 35 proton therapy centers in the United States and the first in Alabama, it will greatly reduce the travel burden for many patients and provide convenience to those who may need additional care at UAB Medicine.

BY JAY ELLIOTT

When you first get the news you have cancer, time stands still, then it moves at a very rapid pace from one doctor and procedure to the next.

Once we got through the scans, biopsies, surgery, and to the radiation treatment, time began to stand still again. All I wanted to do was get it started and finished. It is hard to pinpoint exactly why, but my wife Tracy and I did not feel very comfortable with the path we were on, so we began a mission to find “our” path.

During her research, Tracy learned about proton therapy. As we dug deeper into proton therapy, including the results and after-effects, we knew this was the treatment plan for me. But at the time, it was not offered in Birmingham. The closest one to us was about 300 miles away in Tennessee. We reached out to that clinic to see if I was a good candidate, and after an exam and speaking with the physicians, we were told that I qualified and would begin treatment soon.

The statistics for survival rates and post-treatment quality of life were game-changers for me. It felt right and so much different from our original plan. Because it was a four-hour drive, I moved there for the duration of my treatment.

The most impressive advantage of proton therapy is that the radiation is focused on the cancer and avoids the healthy tissue and organs as much as possible. The other thing that impressed us was the much shorter recovery time – in some cases just a few months instead of a year.

With head and neck cancer, what I feared the most was the loss of my taste buds. I had heard that people lose their taste buds for over a year, and forever for some patients. With proton therapy, my taste buds came back within a few months, and my throat was never touched during the radiation. At my three-month checkup, I was given the “all clear”. I do believe that this was due to proton therapy, and I am forever grateful.

Looking back on my experience with proton therapy, I can honestly say that it was an incredible experience for the situation I was in. Once we believed it was the right path for us, we did not give up until I was approved as a candidate. We were very blessed to have this opportunity.

I am so grateful that people in Birmingham, the state of Alabama, and surrounding states now have an incredible treatment option with Proton International at UAB. If you or anyone you know was recently diagnosed with any kind of cancer, please take a close look at proton therapy as an option. It may be a decision that saves your life.

Having cancer is difficult, but treatment doesn’t have to be. Click here to learn more about Proton International at UAB, a new facility that is part of the O’Neal Comprehensive Cancer Center at UAB.