September is National Prostate Cancer Awareness Month. For men, prostate cancer is the most common form of cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, about one out of seven men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer during his lifetime. Proton therapy has been able to successfully treat many men with prostate cancer.
At the MD Anderson Proton Therapy Center, one of the patients who has benefitted from proton therapy is John R. (Rick) Giardino from Bryan, Texas. Doctors recommended surgery and traditional radiation to treat his prostate tumor. Rick decided to visit the medical library at the Texas A&M University Medical School and search for other forms of treatment for his condition. After reading approximately 95 medical articles, Rick decided proton therapy would be the best form of treatment that could precisely target his tumor while sparing nearby tissue such as the bladder and rectum. Proton therapy also is less invasive than surgery and offers fewer side effects than traditional radiation. Rick began treatment in March 2016 at the Proton Therapy Center where he completed a total of 40 treatments for prostate cancer.
Born in Pueblo, Colorado, Rick developed a love for the outdoors such as hiking, climbing, and skiing. So much so, he earned his doctorate degree in Geomorphology and became a professor for several colleges and universities. He went to Texas A&M University in 1984 where he has held various positions from Department Head for two departments and Dean of the Graduate School. As a benefit of his profession, Rick and his wife, Fran, have been able to travel to different parts of the world including Africa, Central and South America, Cuba, Australia, China, Europe and his favorite, New Zealand, conducting research and scientific collaborations.
Recently, Rick received the George H. Bush Excellence Award for Faculty in International Teaching. This award reflects highly on his international teaching achievements and his personal dedication to international education at Texas A&M. “I felt honored to receive such a prestigious award. Having met President Bush previously made it even more special,” Rick said. Throughout his teaching career, Rick has enjoyed taking students to other countries to gain a cross-cultural experience. “I wanted them to learn and see different things than what they are used to seeing,” Rick said.
Reviving the ProtonPals Support Group
During his time at the Proton Therapy Center, he started befriending the patients he saw daily in the waiting area. “I saw guys really down so I decided to make posters inviting everyone to dinner,” Rick recalls. By having dinner, enjoying food and each other’s company, Rick felt it would help boost everyone’s spirits.
Rick continued to faithfully arrange weekly dinners for his fellow patients and by the third dinner he had approximately 40 patients and their family members attending the dinner.
As a result from Rick’s amiability, he was able to reactivate the ProtonPals support group. ProtonPals allows patients to meet and discuss proton treatment-related topics and form long-lasting friendships. Today, ProtonPals remains very active by hosting weekly lunches and dinners for patients and their families. “I’m really glad to see it continue allowing people to connect. I’m still great friends with the people I met,” Rick said.
He’s thankful for all the wonderful staff he met at the Proton Therapy Center from a police officer, to a janitor, radiation technicians and upper management.
“They find the most compassionate people to hire. Everyone went out of their way to help us,” Rick said. “Their attitudes made you feel like you were their #1 concern.”