Proton therapy by night: A granular cell cancer survivor’s story
When I was diagnosed with granular cell cancer in May 2017, my doctors at MD Anderson recommended surgery, followed by six weeks of proton therapy.
It never occurred to me that I could receive treatment at night, so when my first proton therapy session was scheduled for 10:30 p.m., it freaked me out a little bit. Was that a typo? Why was I being seen so late?
I called my care team, and they confirmed the time slot was real. It was also the soonest I could get in, so I kept the appointment. And I quickly discovered that there are many benefits to receiving treatment at night. That’s why I was OK with the remainder of my treatments being in the late night hours, too.
Calm, quiet … and zero traffic
The MD Anderson Proton Therapy Center is a very busy place. Demand is so high that patients are seen there from 4 a.m. until midnight daily. And as you can imagine, the center is busiest during normal business hours.
But by 10:30 at night, it is calm and peaceful, and doesn’t feel like an ordinary clinical environment. And while navigating the Texas Medical Center even outside of rush hour is no picnic, by 10:30 p.m., traffic is practically nonexistent. Even the freeways are a breeze.
Distracting myself with adventures
Another good thing about scheduling your treatments at night is you have the entire day to work, rest or explore Houston, which is what I did.
I really came to love Houston’s parks, museums, leafy streets, and varied districts during my six-week stay — even in the sweltering summer heat. (Solution: hydrate, hydrate, hydrate!)
My family and I walked through Hermann Park’s beautiful gardens at dusk, took a day trip to Austin, rode the ferry from Galveston Island to the Bolivar Peninsula and drove on the beach, took in a movie at the old-time River Oaks Theater, watched the bats fly out at dusk from underneath the Waugh Street bridge, paused for reflection in the Rothko Chapel, visited a cat café, explored Rice Village and The Woodlands, ventured toward Cajun country, and enjoyed the amazing variety of restaurants and coffeehouses that dot the city.
Going on these adventures kept me from dwelling on cancer, so I highly recommend that other patients do the same, if they feel well enough. The bonus was that after I’d finished my treatment for the night, I could go straight home and get into bed, then sleep late the next day if I wanted to.
The biggest benefit: MD Anderson’s caring staff
For me, the biggest benefit to scheduling my treatments so late was night nurse Dexter Allen. From day one, he made me feel so welcome and comfortable. Dexter joked, laughed, dispensed hugs and dispelled fears. And his attitude made a huge difference in how I faced cancer and my radiation treatments.
I also fell in love with the kindness and sense of humor of my Gantry 3 team at the Proton Therapy Center. The radiation technicians are very sympathetic to patients’ fears, but firm. More than once, they gave me a few additional minutes to compose myself before snapping down the head and neck mask I had to wear for every treatment. And on my final day, the technician who first locked me down came in on his day off to do the honors. That type of kindness stays with you for a lifetime.
I highly recommend MD Anderson. Its Proton Therapy Center has the most amazing and compassionate care team. And if you can go at night, do it. You might just be lucky enough to meet Dexter.