John's Journal...

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

What Having TomoTherapy Was Like  

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.

My wife had breast cancer more than 25-years ago and was radiated for her cancer. She was burned and terribly weak, but she came out of the process cancer-free and glad she could be treated, as we all were. I had known other people who’d had radiation and had side affects that I wasn’t looking forward to experiencing. So, I was somewhat apprehensive, even though Dr. John Fiveash, my family and my close friend Barry Smith (who had had TomoTherapy for his cancer the year before) said that I probably wouldn’t have an side effects other than fatigue at the end of my treatment. When I went to the Kirklin Clinic for the first time, I really didn’t know what to expect. The radiation therapist asked me to, “Strip from your waist down, and put on a hospital gown.”Click to enlarge Then I was led into a room where a cast was made of both of my legs from the knees down. I explained that I didn’t have a broken leg, but that I had prostate cancer. The kind therapist explained that this cast would be used to make sure that I was straight in the TomoTherapy  machine, and that my body was lined-up perfectly every time I was given radiation. The therapist also said, “Now we need to put three small dots on the lower part of your stomach. We’ll use these dots to help line-up the rest of your body to make sure we get you straight in the machine. We cando this with an indelible marker, but it may wash off. Most people opt for three small tattoos that will be permanent and won’t wash off.” When I asked him, “What’s the best and the easiest?” he replied, “The tattoos, which will be so small that you and no one else will notice them.” I answered, “Okay, but I don’t want a tattoo of a naked lady, a bulldog or a sailing ship.” He laughed and said, “No, Mr. Phillips. We’re not going to do those types of tattoos. The tattoo you’re getting is only going to be three little dots.” We both laughed, and I got the tattoos.

When I started radiation, each day I’d sign-in, walk to the men’s dressing room, put on my hospital gown and usually go straight to the TomoTherapy machine. Someone asked me what the TomoTherapy machine looked like, and I compared it to a can of spinach. “The therapist rolls me into this cylinder on a table, I get my treatment, and I come out feeling like Popeye.”  I was put inside a large cylinder (the TomoTherapy machine) where I got a CT scan first of all. The radiation therapist, after looking at my prostate on the scan, would return to thClick to enlargee room and then using the CT scan as a guide line-up the machine and me for my treatment. The actual treatment seemed to take less than 2 minutes. From the time I walked in the door until I left usually took a maximum of 45 minutes. Now that I’ve completed my TomoTherapy radiation, I almost feel kind of guilty because I haven’t had any discomfort, but I am so thankful.

The worst day I had at radiation therapy was one morning after I’d put on my hospital gown and started out of the dressing room toward the Tomo machine. But I was stopped and couldn’t move. I didn’t know what the problem was. I’d never experienced anything like this, since I’d been going to the Kirklin Clinic. However, for some reason, I couldn’t move forward. When I finally looked over my shoulder, I saw that I’d slammed the door of my locker on the tail of my hospital gown, and the gown was stuck in the door, keeping me from moving forward. But after I opened the door and got the tail of my gown out of the locker, everything else went fine at therapy (grin). Seriously, the only side effect I experienced was a slight burning (not bad – just noticeable) when I urinated. The therapist suggested that if I didn’t like to drink cranberry juice that I take cranberry pills – something we didn’t know even existed. Once I started taking the cranberry pills, within only a couple of days, that slight irritation went away. The other side effect occurred when during the last 2 weeks of my treatment I didn’t feel like going out and walking a 5K like I normally did several times a week. However, my longtime friend Barry Smith, who had had the TomoTherapy, last year, assured me that, “For about 2 weeks after therapy, I didn’t feel like exercising. But then I went right back to my exercise program and haven’t had any ill effects since my therapy. My PSA test dropped dramatically, and I haven’t had any problems with waking up at night to go to the bathroom.”

Back during the summer months, our son decided that his mother and I needed to lose weight, build-up our sClick to enlargetamina and get healthier, after our extended family experienced several cancer scares. As a PE teacher and a coach who has studied extensively what’s required to be healthy,  he volunteered to become our personal trainer and signed us up to do a 5K walk during February, while he participated in a marathon. When we realized that the walk would occur right in the middle of my TomoTherapy treatment, our son, who had paid his own money for our entry fees to cheer us on, said, “Dad, you don’t have to worry about doing the 5K walk. I know you’re having radiation and probably won’t feel like doing it.” I looked him square in the eyes and explained, “Son, since you paid $50 of your own hard-earned money to sign me up, I’m going to be in that 5K, even if I have to crawl.” But surprisingly enough, I didn’t have any problem with completing the 5K walk, and I’ve got the T-shirt to prove it!

Of course, I realize that TomoTherapy may not be for everyone. And, I know that everyone’s cancer is not the same. However, I haven’t missed a day of work or a day of hunting and fishing because of my prostate cancer. Now that it’s completed, I want to urge you if you have prostate cancer or other forms of cancer to consider TomoTherapy. But don’t take my word for it or Barry Smith’s. Do your own research as my family, friends  and I did, and learn whether TomoTherapy may be for you. While I was at the TomoTherapy clinic, I met patients there being treated for many types of cancer, including brain cancer, back cancer, throat cancer and others I know nothing about. The ones I talked to believed as I did – that TomoTherapy was the most-painless and most-effective type of radiation treatment we could get.

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

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 5