400th Proton Therapy Patient Example of Why This Treatment Option Can Be Beneficial When Fighting Cancer

Bay City man, who beat salivary gland cancer, explains proton therapy’s cancer-fighting benefits

Author: Jasmine Brown

Joshua Story is the 400th proton therapy patient.

"It was presented as a low side effect form of treatment and I certainly experienced little side effects from it."

A three-year journey for Joshua Story ends with a milestone and a symbolic bell ringing. The 26-year-old from Bay City has finished proton therapy to treat cancer that started in his parotid gland. He also happens to be the 400th patient at the McLaren Proton Therapy Center.

“It feels great to have completed it. Hopefully, I won’t have to come here again,” Story said with a laugh. “I had acinic cell carcinoma, which is a form of salivary gland cancer. It was a low-grade, slow-growing form of cancer.”

Story was diagnosed when he was 23. He was having trouble breathing and sleeping. At the time, he didn’t know he was experiencing symptoms - he thought he had sleep apnea, but doctors thought it could be tonsillitis.

“I wasn’t necessarily in pain. I was exhausted, I’d fall asleep at work – just doze off,” explained Story. “I had the MRI done in Bay City. That’s when they discovered there was a tumor and they referred me to the doctor in Detroit to have surgery done. It turns out that I couldn’t breathe properly because of the tumor that was in my parotid gland.”

His initial cancer treatment plan included a comprehensive approach by multiple oncologists: surgery by a head and neck specialist at the Karmanos Cancer Institute in Detroit, then conventional radiation at the Karmanos Cancer Institute at McLaren Bay Region.

Unfortunately, the cancer returned in multiple areas and additional surgery or conventional radiation could not be given to salvage it. He was then referred to Hesham Gayar, MD at the McLaren Proton Therapy Center in Flint, part of the Karmanos Cancer Network.

Before the recommendation for proton beam therapy, Story had already done research. He was particularly persuaded when reading about Stephen Bonesteel’s experience with proton therapy to treat lung cancer.

“I read the gentleman’s story, and I found it useful to hear him talk about it. It made me comfortable with the treatment,” Story said.

Proton therapy delivers radiation, targeted to the tumor, with no exit dose. This means radiation stops at the depth of the tumor, without unnecessary radiation exposure to much of the surrounding healthy tissue. As a result, patients experience minimal side effects and a better quality of life during and after treatment.

“Not only was proton therapy the only curative option available after his cancer survived surgery and conventional radiation, but we could also give the treatment safely with minimal side effects and no damage to the critical, normal tissue close by, like Joshua’s brain, eyes, throat, and cranial nerves,” said Dr. Gayar, medical director of the McLaren Proton Therapy Center.

“Proton therapy is especially beneficial in patients with long-life expectancy, where their quality of life is important. It is also of great value when critical, normal organs are close to the tumor and when previous radiation is given. It is a safer cancer treatment even when nothing else can be offered.”

Story went through a total of 37 treatments over seven weeks, starting at the beginning of October 2021, and ending the Tuesday before Thanksgiving.

“I thought the treatment was just like it was explained to me. It was presented as a low side effect form of treatment and I certainly experienced little side effects from it,” Story explained.

“I still had all my energy; my appetite was there. When I had the radiation in Bay City, I was tired all the time. The only real side effect that I experienced from the proton therapy was just the skin irritation, which was expected. I’ve been taking care of that through the lotions that were given to me. Aside from that, everything was smooth.”

Joshua Story Finishes Proton Therapy Treatments

Story decided to drive 45 miles each way for his treatment. Though he decided to drive every day, he was introduced to the opportunity to stay at the Hospitality House at McLaren, right next door to the McLaren Proton Therapy Center. The Hospitality House is available for patients and their families who drive long distances for medical care at McLaren Flint, giving them a home-away-from home as they concentrate on healing.

“I really liked the Hospitality House,” said Story. “I think it’s great that they have that there because I met someone from the UP [Michigan’s Upper Peninsula] who was getting treatment – I think it was great they were able to stay there and not have to drive.”

After three years of comprehensive cancer care, 37 proton therapy treatments, and being the 400th patient at the McLaren Proton Therapy Center, Story says he recommends this minimally invasive treatment.

“I would encourage others to investigate it and try to get a consultation. There are fewer side effects, and I was still able to maintain my livelihood,” stated Story.

For more information about proton therapy, visit mclaren.org/proton_forme.