Sarcoma represents just 1 percent of cancer cases. Bob Sisson is among the 1 percent.
“There isn’t a buddy check for sarcoma,” he says. “I don’t know how you give yourself any self-exams. It’s just bad luck.”
A cancer of the body’s connective tissue, there are approximately 14,000 cases of sarcoma diagnosed each year in the United States and represent approximately 15 percent of cancer found in children, according to the Sarcoma Alliance. About 11,300 of those cases soft tissue sarcoma, which can be found in muscles, fat, blood vessels, tendons and other tissues. Just 2,890 cases are bone sarcomas. Sisson was diagnosed with a soft tissue sarcoma known as spindle cell last October.
“I started feeling a lump on my left hip—the left hip started getting a little larger than the right hip,” he says. That was last summer. By fall, he started to feel pain in his hip bone, and he visited his primary care physician who ordered a CT scan. There was a large tumor that had already metastasized into Sisson’s lungs.
“Maybe if I’d gone in 3 months sooner…,” he wonders.
Because the tumor was so close to key organs including the bowel and kidneys, he was not a candidate for surgery. He started chemotherapy at the recommendation of his oncologist in hopes of shrinking the tumors. But Sisson had also noticed the Provision ads on television featuring ice skating champion Scott Hamilton. He did some research about proton therapy and made a “cold call” to the Knoxville treatment center.
“I thought the proton therapy sounded good for me,” he says. “I have a background in nuclear engineering, so I’m not unfamiliar with the (concept)…. I talked to my doctor, and he said he didn’t think it would be a bad route.”
Sisson and his wife spent three hours at the initial consultation, talking with Dr. Tamara Vern-Gross and her nurse Julie Goodfellow.
“They brought in a lot of their staff people to meet with us and talk with us,” he says. “It was so great to be able to have that interaction, that they would take the time to sit there and talk to you about this.”
Because protons deposit their energy at a specific target, there is less collateral damage to surrounding, healthy tissues and organs, making it a good treatment for many cancers, including sarcoma. Vern-Gross also advised on a shorter regimen of traditional radiation therapy, completed at Provision Radiation Therapy, for the smaller tumors in Sisson’s lungs.
The tumor on Sisson’s hip responded well to the treatment, drastically reducing the size of the sarcoma. He continues chemotherapy treatment for the lung nodules.
“The facility was just first-class. Just walking into the facility you think you’re in a clubhouse. It gives you a healthy perspective, a positive perspective,” Sisson says. “I would give (Provision) the highest marks on care. I would give it the highest marks on medical (expertise) because it’s state of the art. Dr. Tamara is great, absolutely fantastic. The world is a better place to have people like her.”
As for his cancer, Sisson says he has continued to stay active—caring for his wife who suffered from a stroke four years ago, driving himself to chemotherapy, keeping up the house and yard. While he knows the odds for beating stage 4 cancer aren’t in his favor, and although his Blue Cross Blue Shield insurance would not pay for the proton therapy treatments, he does not regret the investment.
“It resolved the issue that it was supposed to,” he says, referring to the tumor on his hip. “It’s your life you’re talking about.”