Looking worried, a general physician told Ray Sagar to see a specialist and have his prostate examined as soon as possible. Ray said that he would. As he and his wife left the doctor's office and were walking down a hallway to go home, the doctor stopped them and adamantly told Ray for a second time, "Get that checked. Soon." Subsequent blood examinations and a very high PSA test revealed that Ray had prostate cancer. "I'd gone to the doctor's because of the rectal discomfort I'd been experiencing. Turns out I had cancer," said Ray, 66, who grew up in the US, and has lived in England since marrying an English woman 19 years ago.
"I knew from the start that it was a curable and non-virulent form of prostate cancer, so I had a fairly upbeat attitude," said Ray, a retired two-way radio electronics technician. "I was very lucky that my cancer was discovered in time—purely by accident."
Doctors at Ray’s treatment center in England told Ray that radiation therapy would be an appropriate course of treatment for his localized prostate tumor. Though optimistic about his treatment, Ray still had plenty of questions for the clinicians. Many questions dealt with aspects of his treatment, which began in May 2008, but he asked just as many questions to satisfy his curiosity about the technology delivering the radiotherapy.
Each weekday for seven weeks, Ray would lie still on a treatment table as a Varian linear accelerator machine rotated around him, targeting a treatment beam at his tumor. He'd watch as a robotic tool on the machine, called a multi-leaf collimator, morphed the shape of the treatment beam into the shape of his tumor.
"As I lay on the treatment table, watching the machine rotate around me, I thought 'this is absolutely incredible,'" said Ray. "I've worked in electronics for many years and a device this sophisticated always piques my curiosity. Lying on the table, I remember thinking: This machine is helping to save lives and I want to learn more."
"I became friends with several of the cancer patients I'd see in the waiting room," said Ray. "Some of them were intimidated or even a little scared of the linear accelerator. Not me. Strangely enough, seeing the machine and collimator in action just struck me as fascinating."
Ray finished his treatments in the middle of July 2008, and that August, his doctors determined from a series of follow up tests that his prostate cancer was in remission.
Varian would like to thank St. Luke’s Cancer Center in Guildford Surrey, England for their assistance in the preparation of this story.