Veteran Beats Prostate Cancer with Help from Proton Therapy
“I remember it like it was yesterday.”
James Cook, Knoxville resident and U.S. Army veteran, remembers the day he received his prostate cancer diagnosis. He was devastated. “I just about broke down in tears. My first thought was ‘why me?’ I started packing my bags, both emotionally and physically.”
However, when he discovered a proton therapy center was a mere 15 minutes from his home, Cook was overjoyed and relieved. Thinking the center would be a good option, he attended an informational seminar to learn more.
“The doctors at the seminar were amazing. They told me not to worry, and they would take care of this,” Cook says. “Everyone was so friendly and welcoming. I appreciated that, because I was at a low point.”
Ryan Grover, MD, radiation oncologist and medical director at Thompson Proton Center, has been working with proton therapy since 2002. He confirms that Cook received a standard course of proton therapy in 2015, and at his last checkup, was in great spirits and doing well.
About Proton Therapy
Proton therapy has specific properties that allow clinicians to control the radiation beam so it stops where the cancer is located at any point in the body. It can focus on a tumor or cluster of cancer cells with a pencil-like beam. In the case of prostate cancer, this can reduce radiation exposure to normal, healthy tissues such as the bladder and rectum.
Dr. Grover says, “Mr. Cook sees me for yearly checkup and labs. At the time of his diagnosis, his PSA [prostate-specific antigen] blood test was elevated. PSA is a very good, though not perfect, marker for cancer. But shortly after Mr. Cook’s treatment, his PSA declined just as we like to see, indicating his treatment was working as expected. But most importantly, now, seven years later, his PSA remains very low, confirming his excellent response to proton therapy.”
Wing and a Prayer
Cook relies on music to lift his spirit and speak to his soul. The Ohio native came to Knoxville by way of Nashville. He plays guitar and bass, and he writes lyrics to songs with titles like “Broken Wing and a Prayer.” Music helped get him through both the high and low points in his life.
“The way I explain proton therapy to my friends is, it was like I could be running in a marathon, pull out of the marathon, go in for 45 minutes, get up on the table for treatment and jump right back into running,” he laughs. “I did not have any side effects or illness.”
Cook says, “I am a cheerleader for this center and these folks. The joy that I felt when I found out I was cancer-free, you just can’t beat that.”
Dr. Grover says, “I love seeing people like Mr. Cook in follow-up. Who wouldn’t? He’s doing great, living his life to the fullest, and he tells me how great the people here were, and are. His gratitude and positivity are contagious.
“I agree that Thompson Proton Center is a special place, with great people and great technology,” says Dr. Grover. “Proton therapy has been approved and in use for decades, but like a nice sports car, it’s a complicated and expensive piece of machinery, so you don’t see very many [treatment centers]. In fact, we’re the only proton center in the East Tennessee. While a lot of people come here from Knoxville, we see people from throughout Tennessee, Kentucky, North and South Carolina, and Florida. Word is getting out, and I’m glad that more and more people are learning about and will have access to protons when they need it.”
I’ve Been Blessed
“I have been blessed in so many ways for so many years,” Cook says. He has remained physically active after a long career as a highly accomplished martial arts practitioner, for which he as an impressive trophy and belt collection. Cook served in the U.S. Army for 20 years. During his service, he spent a year in active duty during the Vietnam War.
One meaningful moment Cook experienced after beating prostate cancer was accepting a Medal of Honor on behalf of his late father, who served as a Marine in World War II. “My father was one of the first Black Marines. In 1941, President Roosevelt integrated the Marines, and my father served in 1942. It was the last military branch to integrate. It meant a lot to accept that for him.”
In addition to the belts and awards for noted military and martial arts accomplishments, Cook has another treasured item that he keeps on display: a certificate and a card signed by all the nurses and doctors at the proton therapy center. “They gave it to me when I rang the bell the day I finished treatment,” he says. “I keep it on my mantle where I can see it.”
Prostate-specific antigen tests are recommended annually for men above age 50 or as early as age 40 if you have a family history of prostate cancer. For more information about proton therapy, visit ThompsonProtonCenter.com.