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Hampton man celebrates 5-year survival of cancer

Veteran credits Philadelphia treatment center for success beating prostate cancer

By Prue Salasky, psalasky@dailypress.com | 757-247-4784

May 17, 2012

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When Floyd Walker, now 62, was diagnosed with prostate cancer five years ago, his treatment choices were limited, both by his health history and available therapies in the area. After checking out local options, he took matters into his own hands and self-referred to Cancer Treatment Centers of America in Philadelphia.

On Friday, he'll return there to participate in "Celebrate Life," an annual event honoring 5-year cancer survivors. "As far as I know now, I'm cancer-free," Walker says.

It all happened quickly in June 2007, when a VA doctor told him his PSA reading was high. Walker then went to a primary care doctor followed by a urologist, whose tests confirmed the diagnosis. Initially, his doctor encouraged the Hampton resident to go to Norfolk for surgery where doctors were using the DaVinci robot. But Walker's hernia surgery a decade earlier, which involved having mesh inserted, made the operation inadvisable.

The alternative was to have radioactive seed therapy. "They stay there for life," says Walker, about the implanted seeds. "I didn't like that." And proton therapy, now offered at The Hampton University Proton Therapy Institute, was still years away from operation locally — "I might would have tried it," he says.

Back then, the Vietnam veteran and retired Army reservist was working as a nuclear pipe welder at the shipyard in Newport News — he retired last fall after 43 years service. One night after work, he flipped on the TV and saw an ad for Cancer Treatment Centers of America, a group of four regional hospitals that specialize in integrative cancer care for advanced and complex cases. (A fifth hospital is slated to open in Atlanta, Ga., in August 2012.) He called out the toll-free number to his wife, Leslie, to write down. They called and talked to a representative who encouraged Walker to make a 3-day visit to Philadelphia to get a second opinion.

CTCA sent him the plane tickets. The centers' rep picked him up at the airport. It provided an inexpensive 2-bedroom apartment for him and his wife to stay. The Walkers also ate free at the hospital's cafeteria. Its standard services include verifying insurance, gathering medical records, booking travel and scheduling evaluations, anything effectively to reduce stress.

"It's different from other cancer hospitals. It's patient-empowered care. You have a whole team that stays with you," says spokeswoman Mamie Cargile. "It's very stressful for patients to have to bounce around. You stay in your room and people come to you."

Kane Dawson, an administrator in Philadelphia before becoming CEO, CTCA at Southeastern, expands on the patient empowerment theme. "Even the physical design helps patients to feel comfortable and less overwhelmed," he says. "Two-thirds of the patients are traveling great distances. It helps to have everything under one roof." Its employee-providers include oncologists, radiologists, hospitalists, nurses, massage therapists, naturopaths, dietitians and more.

A team ran a series of tests on Walker and decided on the use of HDR brachytherapy (pronounced "breaky-therapy"). Walker explains that it involves high dosage radiation delivered internally through six-inch needles, or catheters, inserted through the scrotum into the prostate. The actual sessions take minutes but are conducted over two days. After the treatment he returned home and went back to work.

Two weeks later, he headed back to the 58-bed Philadelphia hospital to receive a course of TomoTherapy external radiation daily for five weeks. "I did naturopathic medicine and herbal medicine too — fish oil, green tea extract. I'm still taking it. I can put in an order and it's delivered to my door by FedEx the next day," he says. Between his insurance and the CTCA helping out, Walker's out-of-pocket costs have been manageable.

Until last year, Walker checked back in with the treatment center three times a year. "I really enjoyed them. They do a lot of things that others don't do. They flew me and my wife back and forth a few times. … The staff is excellent, the nicest I've been around. They tell you straight up."

Walker has had a knee replacement since his retirement and suffers from hypertension. And, about 10 years ago he developed diabetes. "the diabetes is probably my biggest health thing now," he says.



'Celebrate Life'



Hampton resident Floyd Walker will participate in "Celebrate Life," an annual ceremony honoring 5-year cancer survivors, at the Eastern Regional Medical Center of Cancer Treatment Centers of America in Philadelphia on Friday, May 18. Walker and 54 other cancer survivors will participate in several events marking the milestone.

To learn more about CTCA's four regional hospitals — a fifth is slated to open in Atlanta in August 2012 — go to http://www.cancercenter.com or call 1-800-487-3526.