LONDON, Ky. — Cancer has impacted and claimed the lives of millions of individuals, often leaving researchers and health care providers searching for answers and fighting for a substantial cure. Continued research and cutting-edge technology have provided hope to those who hear that dreaded word in their diagnosis.
That research and technology was the beacon of hope for a London, Kentucky, man — one of the first patients treated at the newly established proton therapy clinic in Cincinnati, Ohio.
Troy Witt, 65, is the clinic’s local success story, having undergone proton treatment after being diagnosed with a brain tumor just 10 months ago.
Proton therapy offers a more concentrated treatment for certain types of cancer by targeting a smaller area where the tumor is located, thus sparing exposure to healthy tissue.
Developed as a safer cancer treatment that involves the power of accelerated proton-based energy to stop the spread of cancerous cells, the innovative alternative to radiation treatment is still in its infancy here in the United States. Currently, there are only 22 proton therapy centers throughout the country.
Last spring, Witt noticed some things out of the ordinary regarding his eyesight.
“My eyes were watering a lot so I thought I’d go to the eye doctor and see if I needed glasses or if something was wrong,” Witt said.
That decision probably saved his life.
When a Corbin, Kentucky doctor tested Witt’s eyes, he noticed an abnormality and referred Witt to the local hospital for more extensive tests. Those tests showed a mass behind Witt’s eyes.
Witt’s daughter works with a medical specialist in northern Kentucky and immediately made him an appointment at the Mayfield Clinic in Cincinnati, Ohio. Within the next week, an MRI detected a tumor nesting in his forehead.
“They said the tumor was the size of an orange,” Witt said. “I came through that okay and came back home. But I couldn’t bend or lift anything over five pounds. They told me I could only sit or walk.”
But a simple cough and a sneeze caused setbacks to his recovery, which sent him back to specialists to repair the area. Then came the discovery that a piece of the tumor and some cancerous areas around it still remained.
Due to the positioning of the tumor, however, the radiation usually offered for cancer patients was precarious. It was then that Witt was referred to the University of Cincinnati Children’s Hospital where he learned about proton therapy.
Dr. John Breneman, Medical Director of Proton Therapy and radiation oncologist at U.C., explained how proton therapy is more effective than the traditional radiation treatments.
“The difference with proton therapy is we can keep the radiation away from other tissues,” he said. “It is an aggressive treatment of a tumor with more precision to target the affected area without damaging the surrounding areas.”
Breneman said areas where proton therapy is especially effective when areas of the heart, abdomen, and liver could sustain damage from regular radiation treatments.
“Proton therapy is a more concentrated treatment and has proven effective for many children,” he added. “It’s also effective with breast cancer.”
Proton therapy is also being used for patients who have cancer in the head, throat and neck, Breneman added.
While proton therapy does have some of the same side effects as regular radiation treatments, Witt said he was fortunate to have very little sickness typically associated with radiation treatments.
“I had daily treatments for seven weeks,” he said. “I stayed with my daughter in northern Kentucky. They said the side effects would be skin irritation and a 50 percent chance of losing my eyesight or memory. The only side effect I had was some sores in my nose.”
Witt experienced is a loss of taste and smell but within 30 days following his treatments, Witt was driving and enjoying his life as he had prior to the diagnosis. His eyes still water sometimes as they did before discovering he had a brain tumor, but not in the same manner as before.
Now back at home, Witt is looking forward to enjoying his “country boy” lifestyle — riding on his tractor, planting a garden this spring, playing with his dog and spending time with his wife of 50 years, Brenda.
“The Lord was good to me,” he said. “I’d recommend it to anyone because other than having an MRI every month, I’m fine.”
Johnson writes for the Corbin, Kentucky Times-Tribune.