CRYSTAL LAKE – The past year has been a rough one for Bill Silvester.
The 74-year-old Crystal Lake resident had an umbilical hernia – a condition common among infants but also can occur in adults – about six months ago, then he was diagnosed with atrial fibrillation, an irregular heartbeat.
The 6 1/2-hour open-heart surgery that followed pushed back the proton therapy he was set to go through to take care of the moderate, slow-growing prostate cancer he had been diagnosed with in early November.
“I was golden until I started falling apart,” Silvester said. “I had childhood-type deals, you know, broken bones. I had pneumonia. I had a couple of girls that broke my heart.”
Silvester looked over at his wife, Johnnie, and continued, “When she chose me, it was at a dance hall, and there were a couple of Icelandic girls.”
Johnnie interjected, “We don’t have to go into that,” but Bill Silvester was clearly enjoying himself.
“What were their names? Nona, Stana, Inga and Johnnie. So anyways, I danced with Johnnie.”
He laughs and she lets out a sigh, and in his usual roundabout way, he gets back to giving his medical history, which was fairly good until this year when, as he puts it, he started falling apart.
By the time Silvester, a retired United Airlines pilot, had been diagnosed with prostate cancer, he was done with the surgeries. He didn’t want to go through that again, especially the long time it has taken him to recover.
Silvester had discovered proton therapy through an acquaintance, another retired United Airlines pilot who had written about his own treatment in the Retired United Pilots Association magazine.
After finding out that his prostate-specific antigen test came back high and the doctor was recommending a biopsy, Silvester called the other pilot, and they talked about how it works, the benefits and the 25 other retired pilots who had been through the process.
By the time Silvester walked into his doctor’s office and received the diagnosis, he knew what he was going to do.
About one in six men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer, making it the second most common form of cancer for men, according to the American Cancer Society. One in 36 will die from it.
Treatment methods include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, immunotherapy and vaccine therapy, and – because prostate cancer is typically slow growing – just keeping an eye on it.
The most common radiation treatment is intensity-modulated radiotherapy, known as IMRT.
Proton therapy is a less common and more expensive treatment option that advocates say has fewer side effects because protons allow a greater control over what tissue is damaged by the radiation.
Some concerns have been raised – a new study released by researchers at the Yale School of Medicine in December reports the therapy has no fewer side effects than traditional treatment – even as the availability of the therapy spreads.
There are 11 proton therapy centers in the U.S., including one in Warrenville, and 12 more in the works, according to the National Association for Proton Therapy.
Regardless of what treatment prostate cancer patients decide to go with, Silvester said he just wants them to know all their options.
Men tend not to talk about “anything between their navels and their knees,” he said, quoting one of his nurses, so he decided to become an advocate, volunteering for the proton therapy center he went to in Warrenville.
“I’m a pro at this because it worked so well with me,” he said. “However, it’s merely another choice. ... I just feel wounded when someone doesn’t have this information.”