The Leap of Faith that Helped Save a Minister's Life

Author: Leslie Toldo

When the pandemic started, Alan Yerke was already dealing with a health crisis.

“I had an enlarged prostate. I had issues emptying my bladder. I was on medication for it,” Alan said.

In 2022, Alan had a UroLift.  It is a minimally invasive procedure that uses tiny implants to lift and hold enlarged prostate tissue out of the way, so it doesn’t block the urethra. In 2023 he went in for a checkup, which included a PSA test.

“I was getting a PSA test with my annual physicals while this was going on, but I was also getting the screening for my enlarged prostate. So, I was getting it done twice a year,” Alan said.

His PSA had been low, but when he went in for that checkup, things were different. Bloodwork showed Alan’s PSA had doubled in a year.

“A biopsy showed two cancerous areas, and one was mildly aggressive,” Alan said. “Going through the enlarged prostate, I just never really thought about prostate cancer. So, it was a bit of a shock when I called to get the results.”

Alan had a decision to make about his care.  He could either have his prostate surgically removed, or he could have radiation to kill off the cancer cells.

“I opted for radiation.  I did not want to deal with the possible side effects of surgery,” Alan said.

Instead of traditional radiation, Alan’s urologist suggested proton therapy.  Alan had never heard of it before, so he did some research.

“I am a minister and had several men in my congregation who had gone through prostate cancer. All of them were getting traditional radiation.  We researched online and discovered there aren’t many proton therapy centers in the country.”

Still loaded with questions about this unfamiliar treatment option, Alan took his doctor’s referral and went to see Radiation Oncologist Dr. Brian Yeh at the McLaren Proton Therapy Center, part of the Karmanos Cancer Network.  

“I met first with an intake nurse, then watched a video about how proton works,” Alan said. “Then I got to talk with Dr. Yeh. He spent a good hour answering questions for my wife and me.”

Alan’s biggest question was the same one many new patients have.  Why proton therapy?

“Proton therapy delivers targeted radiation, stopping its trek through the body at the tumor,” Dr. Yeh said. “Traditional X-rays deliver radiation to the tumor, then continue to move through the body, exposing healthy tissue beyond the tumor to radiation.”

That means proton therapy offers less risk of damage to healthy tissue and organs and, ultimately, fewer side effects than traditional radiation- or photon therapy.

“For patients this means a better quality of life both during treatment and long-term,” Dr. Yeh said.

After losing his father to esophageal cancer and watching four uncles go through prostate cancer, Alan wanted to go with the treatment he felt was the most promising option available.  After talking with Dr. Yeh, Alan decided proton was his best chance.  He had treatments five days a week for nine weeks.

“The team of radiation techs was excellent,” Alan said. “I usually had two during my treatments, but there were four or five rotating in and out. All of them were very compassionate and friendly and answered my questions. It was a pleasure. 

While he believes he picked the best treatment option and team to care for his cancer, Alan says it was the support he got from his wife and congregation that truly got him through this battle.

“My wife has been my rock.  I have been able to process it with her,” Alan said. “I also talked with two guys who went through prostate cancer, and that has helped. People came out of the woodwork and were supportive. Anyone facing cancer should find emotional support from others and know they are not alone. “

To learn more about proton therapy or to get scheduled for a consultation,  visit