July 26, 2021
How I used art to guide me through prostate cancer treatment
BY Thomas Mann
In February 2020, I went for my annual checkup in New Orleans, Louisiana, where I live. I received an excellent bill of health. However, I realized that my bloodwork didn’t include the prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test. I went back the next day for a PSA test.
I had just told my friends and family that I was in great health. But when I got the results from the PSA test, I had to share alarming news: my PSA level was 18.
A urologist confirmed that there was a lump on my prostate and ordered an MRI, bone scan and biopsy. Based on the results, my doctor determined that I had stage II prostate cancer.
Finding the right prostate cancer treatment
After hearing my PSA levels were high, I researched prostate cancer treatment options, and my friend and mentor shared his experience and suggestions with me. I decided on MD Anderson and hoped I’d be a candidate for proton therapy.
I had my first appointment at the MD Anderson Proton Therapy Center in June 2020. Because my Gleason score was high, my radiation oncologist Seungtaek Choi, M.D., recommended that I start hormone therapy prior to receiving proton beam radiation. I started on a daily bicalutamide pill along with receiving a Lupron shot every six months. I returned to Houston in November to have the simulation to prepare for proton therapy.
Moving my art studio to Houston for treatment at MD Anderson
I moved to Houston in January 2021, to prepare the rental house for a three-month artist residency program that I would conduct while I was in treatment. I have been in the vanguard of American art jewelry movement, an “Artrepreneur” as I like to refer to myself, for nearly five decades. My compositions combine silver and non-precious metal elements with plastics and found objects. I create distinctive wearable pieces I call “Techno-romantic jewelry objects.”
I used my time in Houston to get ready for my upcoming local gallery exhibits. I rented a house that I could use as my studio. My plan was to keep living my normal daily life as best as I could. I loaded my kitchen gear and studio equipment into a minivan and trailer, even bringing my scooter and kayak. I wanted to enjoy my normal routine of painting, cooking and sculpting. My girlfriend, Jan, and several friends came to stay with me and help make everything operational for me to work.
Creating artwork during proton therapy treatments
Several days before my first treatment, I had surgery to have fiducial markers placed near the tumor in my prostate. These are tiny metal objects that help doctors line up the radiation beam during treatment to target the tumor. Prior to surgery I remember asking my surgeon, David Irwin, M.D., what the fiducials looked like. He pulled out his phone, looked up the image and showed it to me.
Immediately after waking up from surgery, I anxiously asked the nurse for a pen and paper. I drew the image that had occurred to me while I was sedated. The shape at the bottom of the drawing is the shoe of the markers that he showed me and then installed. This became the basis for the graphic I designed that other prostate cancer patients now sign in the Proton Therapy Center’s dressing room. I also included things I remember about the proton therapy machine in the drawing.
I scheduled my proton therapy appointments for the late afternoon so that I could have a full day to work – and I worked more furiously than usual. I even worked in the dark and freezing cold when a winter storm caused power outages in Houston. I was artistically inspired and very productive.
I also exercised daily and ran several miles at the nearby park. I rode my scooter to my treatments so I could tour local parks.
I had my last proton therapy treatment on March 19 and was ready for the gallery exhibit of paintings, drawings and prints in Houston’s historic Third Ward the following day. The week before, I’d held a jewelry show to display my latest work.
Giving back through the art community
For a few months after treatment, I experienced minimal side effects, but they’ve subsided over time.
I’ve always had an optimistic attitude about life. I want to make the best of my remaining time on the planet, be a benefit to others and have a good time doing it.
I shared my treatment experience on my Facebook page and received an email from a client who had just received a prostate cancer diagnosis. I shared my experience with him and talked him through the process. I look forward to mentoring and helping others from my experience. I also plan to encourage others to get yearly check-ups and seek treatment at MD Anderson if they receive a cancer diagnosis.
I am thrilled with the results of my proton therapy treatment and the incredibly caring staff at MD Anderson. Thanks to them, I’m looking forward to creating more art while being cancer-free!
Request an appointment at MD Anderson online or by calling 1-877-632-6789.
I am thrilled with the results of my proton therapy treatment and the incredibly caring staff at MD Anderson.