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In 2009, Ralph Sullivan, of Easton, PA, was working at a demanding job as director of information technology for a global chemical company. That same year, Ralph learned he had prostate cancer. He was only 50 at the time. Although Ralph was younger than most for this diagnosis, the disease was caught in the earliest possible stage.
Prone to prostatitis, a common inflammation that can elevate PSA, Ralph was accustomed to being treated by a urologist for the recurring problem. Usually, Ralph would take a few rounds of antibiotics and his symptoms would disappear. But this time was different. His levels were still rising and Ralph's doctor ordered a biopsy. Of the 12 core samples, one showed a 5 percent presence of cancer cells.
Presented with his options, robotic surgery seemed the best choice. But to be considered a surgical candidate, Ralph had to lose at least 50 pounds. He followed his doctor's instructions and dropped the weight. A second PSA test in November 2009 revealed that his level had dropped to 2.0, below normal for his age.
"At this point everybody was confused," he recalled. Another PSA test a month later registered 1.0. "I was advised to watch and wait." Ralph's physician had caught the cancer early, and according to his Gleason grade (in which a pathologist evaluates the tissue to predict how fast growing the cancer is), Ralph's was very slow growing. Despite his low-risk status, Ralph nervous about the situation. "Anxiety was affecting so many areas of my life, from my family to my professional life."
A consult with a Philadelphia radiation oncologist didn't make him feel any better. "The technology seemed archaic to me," he said. "What's worse, they couldn't guarantee that the radiation would only affect the prostate."
Ralph's research led him to the advanced technology at Fox Chase.
Researching online, Ralph discovered the Calypso® 4D Localization System for treating prostate cancer, a highly localized high-tech treatment option offered at Fox Chase Cancer Center.
Ralph met with Shelly Hayes, MD, a radiation oncologist and director of Fox Chase's state-of-the-art radiation facility in Buckingham. "Dr. Hayes talked with me about Calypso, and it seemed like the best possible treatment option for me." Working like a GPS system for the body, Calypso tracks prostate tumors during the delivery of radiation therapy - allowing for more precise and accurate radiation targeting. Before each treatment, Calypso finds the tiny electromagnetic sensors implanted in the prostate and prostate bed (called beacon transponders) and helps the technologist re-align the treatment plan. "This is Star Trek stuff," said Ralph. After having the beacon implanted in his prostate, Ralph was ready for a course of 39 radiation treatments, which he finished in February 2011.
"Dr. Hayes and her entire staff were just wonderful."
"Dr. Hayes and her entire staff were just wonderful through the whole process. She's someone with a chosen calling," he said. "She's down to earth and made me feel so at ease. And Dr. Hayes has the absolute best staff I've ever encountered," he said. "They are hand-picked, and it shows."
Ralph recalled the treatment quickly became a routine. "The staff - including Mike, Liz and Dana - kept me laughing and walked this journey with me. My nurse, Kathy, calmed my nerves whenever I was anxious." Today Ralph is free of cancer and feels good about his decision.
"Prostate cancer is the last thing in the world anyone wants to deal with, but Dr. Hayes and her team took a challenging situation and made it almost pleasant. Perhaps I was one of the very lucky ones but this treatment was a gift from God. I know I did the right thing."