Special to The Sun
Jim Wallis, 75, of Edmond, vividly remembers the day when he was told he would need surgery to determine whether a tumor he had was cancerous or not.
It was through that conversation that spurred Wallis, who lives in southern Logan County, to look at other medical options.
He eventually landed at the Proton ProCure Therapy Center at 5901 W. Memorial Road in Oklahoma City for help with his tumor.
“In November 2011 I was shaving one morning and noticed this big swelling in my neck,” Wallis said. “I called my family physician and he looked at and prescribed some antibiotics thinking it was some type of lymph node infection. It had no effect so he sent me over to INTEGRIS Hospital for imaging and from that they diagnosed this as a carotid paraganglioma.”
Carotid paraganglioma is a rare neuroendocrine neoplasm that may develop at various body sites (including the head, neck, thorax and abdomen). About 97 percent are benign and cured by surgical removal. It occurs in about 1-2 people per 100,000, which equates to about seven people per year in Oklahoma.
Wallis, owner of Exok, an Oklahoma City oil and gas exploration company, was later sent to a surgeon for consultation.
“My physician sent me to a surgeon and I remember very vividly he said he thought I was strong enough to handle an operation,” Wallis said. “During the course of that conversation I asked him how many of this type of surgery had he done before and he said not many. Things were starting to look kind of grim.”
Wallis said the surgeon didn’t think normal radiation treatments would work because the tumor was large.
“It was big,” he said. “It was the size of a deck of playing cards.”
Wallis, who sits on the board of directors at INTEGRIS Baptist Hospital, said he had become acquainted with ProCure when he previously toured the facility.
He met with Dr. Sameer Keole, who no longer works at ProCure, about possible proton radiation therapy.
“He said don’t worry about that we can take care of it,” Wallis said. “He said you are going to die of something other than carotid paraganglioma. That was a relief for me.”
In early 2012 Wallis started 25 proton sessions at ProCure.
“It literally had no side effects,” he said. “During that time I went about my schedule working out at the gym three days a week and living life. It was about a good a turnout as you could hope for.”
Proton therapy is an effective form of radiation therapy for many types of tumors. It destroys cancer cells by preventing them from dividing and growing, just like standard X-ray (photon) radiation.
The difference between proton therapy and standard X-ray radiation is that protons deposit much of their radiation directly in the tumor and then stop. This allows patients to receive higher doses, which can be more effective, while reducing damage to healthy tissues that surround the tumor.
“The protons destroy the DNA of the tumor cells and they lose their ability to reproduce,” Wallis said. “It is like magic.”
Wallis said the proton treatments shrunk his tumor enough where he now just requires an annual MRI checkup.
Dr. Michael Confer serves as Wallis’ ProCure physician. He said Wallis had a non-cancerous tumor and is considered a benign tumor survivor.
Confer added that Carotid paraganglioma can be linked to living in high altitudes or having certain lung conditions.
Wallis said ProCure is leading the way in proton treatments with patients coming there from across the country and the globe.
“The medical community is very slow to adopt change and new technology for a variety of reason,” Wallis said. “I think at the end of the day protons limit collateral damage to a far greater degree than normal radiation.”
Wallis said this experience has reminded him that life is short and he must value each day.
“You have to play the hand that you were dealt in this life and I was concerned that I had been dealt a really bad hand to play,” he said. “You are more appreciative of the days you have left.”