Retired Elkhart fire captain chooses adaptive radiation therapy to treat prostate cancer
A diagnosis of prostate cancer brought Jeff Alwine to his knees. Nearly every member of his family had died from cancer, including his father. Now he faced the disease on an even more personal level.
Jeff had seen how the disease touched the lives of colleagues at work. A relative of a biking companion was in treatment for an aggressive form of prostate cancer. Friends in his close-knit circle had their own battles with the disease.
“It hit me hard,” Jeff said. “I hadn’t had any scans yet, but I knew I was in trouble.”
Jeff, 58, got his diagnosis almost by chance. He had paid $30 for one last health screening before he retired from the Elkhart City Fire Department in 2021. The test showed an elevated level of his prostate-specific antigen, or PSA.
“I had monitored my PSA for a while, but I was shocked by the fluctuation,” he said. It was time for Jeff to see a specialist.
Screenings show possible signs of cancer before symptoms begin
A PSA screening is the most common method doctors use to screen for prostate cancer. It measures a type of protein made by cells in the prostate gland. When a man has an elevated PSA level, it may be caused by prostate cancer. Other conditions, such as an enlarged prostate or inflammation of the prostate, also can lead to a rise in PSA.
In Jeff’s case, his urologist had concerns about Jeff’s PSA results, although he could not give Jeff a diagnosis yet. The two discussed pros and cons of what to do next. Jeff agreed to try active surveillance as his next step. That meant his doctor monitored Jeff’s PSA levels through more blood tests for the next nine months.
Jeff’s numbers went in one direction – up. A biopsy confirmed that Jeff had cancer in the prostate gland, and most likely, it had not spread to other parts of his body. That meant Jeff had two or three treatment options to consider, including surgery to remove the prostate and radiation to kill the cells in the gland.
Adaptive radiation therapy protects healthy tissue from exposure
Jeff took a deep dive into research and consulted with close friends and coworkers to figure out where he wanted to go for treatment. That’s when Jeff learned about an advanced radiation therapy called Ethos offered at Goshen Center for Cancer Care. The system combines image-guided radiation therapy with artificial intelligence to provide highly personalized treatment each and every session.
Ethos’ adaptive capabilities give the Goshen clinical team precision tools to better target the tumor. The external beam therapy protects healthy tissue from radiation exposure and has the potential to improve overall outcomes.
“I was totally sold when I talked with Dr. Vaghefi about Ethos,” Jeff said. Radiation Oncologist, Houman Vaghefi, MD, and his team use the adaptive treatment for patients with pelvic cancers, such as prostate cancer, or gynecological malignancies, like cervical or uterine cancer.
In the spring of 2022, Jeff began 30 rounds of radiation delivered by the Ethos system. That meant he was at the Center for Cancer Care five days a week for six weeks. He got to know everyone and recognized a respect and genuineness that extended beyond the oncology team to the radiation techs – right up to the front desk.
Holistic therapies strengthen natural defenses and boost overall well-
Integrative care became an essential element of Jeff’s treatment program. He immediately recognized the benefits of naturopathic medicines, supplements and nutrition planning to help him cope with the effects of radiation on his body.
“I try to live a healthy lifestyle and had been doing a lot of things before treatment,” Jeff said. “You can’t do the physical activities I do if you eat a bunch of junk!”
Supplements, smoothies and a host of antioxidants became part of Jeff’s daily routine. They helped to ease his stomach problems and cope with fatigue. His strong faith gave him permission to be patient, kind and loving toward himself.
“I would tell myself, it’s OK that you are not OK,” he said.
The close group of friends that loved on Jeff through all his ups and downs came together to celebrate the end of treatment in May 2022. With no more time constraints every day, Jeff was back on his mountain bike, doing what he loves. He even completed a 100-mile ride as part of the Amishland and Lakes bicycle tour in July 2022.
“If I had to have cancer, I’m glad I landed at the Goshen cancer center,” he said. “And if it happens again, I’m going back.”