Michael Gunville learned from an annual physical with his primary care physician that his PSA level was slightly elevated. “It's worth investigating”, he was told, and so Michael went to see his urologist who took a second PSA and performed a biopsy. Tests revealed that the 64-year old web manager had early stage prostate cancer. On the positive side, the tumor had been caught early, well before Michael's health was negatively impacted.
"The doctors gave me three options," said Michael. "I could be treated with radiotherapy, or surgery, or I could simply go the ‘watchful waiting’ route, without any treatment, and see what happened. The decision was 100% mine. And really, I was feeling fine at the time."
Nonetheless, partly because of a family history that included several relatives who battled different forms of cancer, Michael began to consider the options of either radiotherapy or surgery. "I did some research about radiotherapy technologies," he said. "They both looked favorable for treating prostate cancer. Radiotherapy was a non-invasive option. I started radiotherapy not long after the second PSA test. I was fortunate to not have fatigue and minor side effects."
Michael decided on his course of treatment independent of any influence from his workplace, but coincidentally, the eight weeks of treatments that he received were all delivered on a linear accelerator machine made by Varian Medical Systems, the same company he worked for. He received image-guided intensity modulated radiotherapy (IMRT) treatments at a nearby hospital in his hometown of Palo Alto, California.
Each weekday for nine weeks, Michael had to lie still during his IMRT treatments. "I had to be as inanimate as possible—my job was to imitate a rock," said Michael. "Fortunately, the steps of imaging and treatment tended to take less than 10 minutes to complete. I usually arrived at the radiation oncology department a few minutes after eight in the morning and before nine, I was walking into work down the street."
Was he surprised to discover that he had prostate cancer?
"My family has a long history with cancer and so I fully anticipated the day when a doctor would tell me that I had a tumor of some kind," said Michael. "I was certainly concerned about receiving radiotherapy, but I think I took it all in stride. I never took a sick day at work— no one at work even knew that I was undergoing treatments."
Michael completed his final, 45th session of radiotherapy in June 2009. As of the fall of 2012 Michael is cancer free and checking his PSA levels every six months.
Varian would like to thank Palo Alto Medical Foundation in Palo Alto, CA for their assistance in the preparation of this story.