John's Journal...

Outdoor Writer John E. Phillips Talks about His Prostate Cancer Journey and TomoTherapy

The Best Advice about Cancer Isn’t Always the Best Advice

Click to enlargeEditor’s Note: One in six men in the United States will have prostate cancer, and more than 65% of all prostate cancers are diagnosed in men over the age of 65. Through my 5-month odyssey, I’ve learned that prostate cancer doesn’t have to be a death sentence, and the treatment for it doesn’t have to hurt or have severe side effects. If your prostate cancer is discovered early, treatment doesn’t have to be a major discomfort or interfere with your life. However, all prostate cancer isn’t the same, and the same treatment isn’t recommended for everyone. The more you know about the diagnosis and the treatment of prostate cancer not only can save your life but also offset many of the fears and the concerns you’ll have after your initial diagnosis. This week’s postings will be very different from what I’ve posted in the past on However, those of you who faithfully read my webpage are a part of my Internet family, and I sincerely hope that what you learn from my experience may help you, your friends and/or your family members.Click to enlarge

From 5-year-old kindergarten through two degrees in college, I’ve had my daughter in the best private schools I could find. She has a college degree in nursing and a degree in journalism, and I’m convinced that she knows most everything there is to know in the known world. My son-in-law is one of the best doctors I’ve ever met. He handles everything from shootings and stabbings to heart attacks and near-death experiences in the emergency room. If I’m sick or hurt, these two are who I go to for advice. I have a huge medical resource at my fingertips. Both of them understand how to study and research anything they don’t know. Once they found out I had prostate cancer, they cranked-up the computer and begin to look for and learn about the best treatment they could find for me. When I mentioned Barry Smith, they gave me the usual, “Yeah, Dad, he’s a good friend, and I know he wants to help, but he’s not a medical person. We need to research the effects of all forms of prostate-cancer treatment and the long-term results. Then we can help you decide on what’s best for you. We really think you should consider the standard 48 days worth of radiation that’s been tried and tested for many years. But we will research TomoTherapy and Dr. Fiveash as well.”Click to enlarge

First of all, you can ask almost any child, and he or she will tell you they know more than their Daddy does. However, what Kate and Joe didn’t realize was that Barry Smith was a research scientist, although his research was primarily with fish. But Barry knew how to research and find out what he didn’t know. I called Barry again, told him what my daughter and son-in-law had suggested, and Barry said, “John, I’ve never really asked you for anything as long as I’ve known you, have I?” I thought for a moment and said, “No, Barry you never have.” And Barry said, “John, I’m asking you now as a friend to make an appointment with Dr. John Fiveash at UAB’s Kirklin Clinic, get a second opinion and talk with him about TomoTherapy. I know your daughter and your son-in-law want what’s best for you, but since they’re both medical people, they should understand that you can’t lose by getting a second opinion. If for no other reason than our friendship, I’m asking you to do this for me.” I assured Barry that I would meet with Dr. Fiveash for a second opinion, and that I would discuss TomoTherapy with him. When I told my Click to enlargedaughter I was going for a second opinion, she agreed that it was a good idea and added, “I’m going with you, Daddy. I know more about medicine than you do, and there are some questions I want to ask Dr. Fiveash.” I’m thankful that I have a daughter, a son-in-law and a son who not only care about my health but intend to be involved and help me make right decisions.

So, we went to the Kirklin Clinic at the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s (UAB) Comprehensive Cancer Center, known nationally as one of the top cancer centers anywhere and on the cutting edge of searching for cures for all types of cancer. Before my daughter and I went to UAB, she did her research on Dr. Fiveash and probably knew as much about him as his mother did. She researched TomoTherapy and agreed that we needed to consider it after she had gone with me to talk with Dr. Fiveash.

For more information on Dr. John Fiveash, go to; to learn more about UAB’s Comprehensive Cancer Center, visit; for more information on TomoTherapy, check-out; to learn more about my urologist, Dr. Rodney Dennis, visit

Tomorrow: How TomoTherapy Works

Check back each day this week for more about "Cancer Not Me"

Day 1: I’ve Got Prostate Cancer
Day 2: I Talked to Someone Who Had Had Prostate Cancer to Get His Take on the Disease
Day 3: The Best Advice about Cancer Isn’t Always the Best Advice
Day 4: How TomoTherapy Works
Day 5: What Having TomoTherapy Was Like  


Entry 551, Day 3