Sunday, October 25, 2009

Upside Down

Certain things are suppose to be upside down or backwards. Take for instance “Pineapple Upside Down Cake” as the obvious one. Upside down tomato plants are in vogue with the urban gardeners. Or how about how our vision is really projected upside down on our retina but it is our brain that flips it around for us. Some researchers believe that newborn babies see the world upside down for the first few days of their lives until their brains make the proper adjustments. Of course later in life those same babies turn into teenagers who then think their parents see everything upside down and have no brains.

When you encounter life changing circumstances like a death of a loved one or a life threatening diagnosis it often turns your world upside down. As we have been interacting with various patients undergoing proton beam treatment (PBT) here at Loma Linda, this has been a recurring theme. Sure we all came here by choice but it was not something we intended to do. Last October a medical trip to Southern California to treat cancer was not on our “must do before we die” list. Proton therapy might be a wonder of science and physics but it is not one of the “Wonders of the World.”

It is apparent that there are a number of elements that help in the process of turning things back around. Like with the eye and the retina ruse, the brain is vital in restoring focus for those difficult times in our lives. From those we have talked to the word “research” heads the list of activities implemented to right the ship on this course with prostate cancer. It is personal research as well as relying on the capable research of others.

Time is another key ingredient in rectifying one’s perspective. Some of life’s challenges require more steps than others, thus more time. If you are growing squash it is only a matter of months before you see the fruit of your labors. But if you want an acorn from an oak tree it is another story. Many patients here spent much time in their deliberations before settling on a verdict to treat their cancer with PBT.

Faith enters the picture often within this framework. There are numerous individuals being treated here at LLUMC who have expressed how their faith and personal relationship with their God has been an anchor in their journey. Martin Luther King, Jr. capsulated faith in this way: “Faith is taking the first step even when you don't see the whole staircase.” Taking this analogy a step further you can see how the mind and the eyes work together in making that next step. You may be looking for all of the answers to what lies ahead, but all you really need is enough information to take the next step.

Like with the newborn baby, an upside down world can be turned around with not only our brains, but also with time and our faith going to bat for us.

Proverbs 15:22 (New Living Translation)
“Plans go wrong for lack of advice; many advisers bring success.”

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Help is on the Way

Loma Linda University Medical Center is the only level one regional trauma center for Inyo, Mono, Riverside, and San Bernardino counties in Southern California. As a result patients and visitors will more than likely see and/or hear helicopters arriving and departing regularly at the Medical Center. Literally there are thousands of landings per year. If you have ever been close to a helicopter you know how loud they are. Our little cottage is within view and earshot of the two heliports at the facility. I think we hear more helicopters than ambulances.

The thundering noise can have a number of effects on people. To some it might be an irritation. To others it signals that help is on the way. When we first arrived all I was hearing was the clamor from these contraptions. When we learned about the trauma center we understood the significance of the noise from these “flying hospitals.” With my “hearing” I was able to add knowledge and understanding. Can you imagine someone living near the facility saying “can’t they land those things somewhere else?” Ignorance can have a stifling effect on our perception and points of view. I see the proton center here at LLUMC in a similar light.

As I researched prostate cancer and consulted with doctors, proton beam therapy (PBT) was a blip on the radar screen. Many patients are not even presented with this treatment as an option. As I have read patient testimonials I have been amazed at how many have stated their doctors were not aware of it. Some consider this treatment “experimental” or “unproven.” Added to that is the fact that some insurance companies still refuse to reimburse or cover the cost of this treatment. Much of this probably stems from a lack of knowledge regarding PBT.

Proton technology has been around for a long time. The first patients treated with proton beams were done so at the Lawrence Berkley Laboratory in California in 1955. But it wasn’t until 1990 that LLUMC opened “the world’s first proton facility designed for patient treatment and research in a hospital setting.” It was the only one of its kind for 13 years. To dispel the misconceptions regarding PBT consider the following. About 55,000 patients worldwide had been treated with proton therapy with over 12,000 of those patients having been treated at the LLUMC proton center. There are currently six proton centers operating in the United States with four more under construction and others under development. Medicare and the majority of private insurance companies cover this form of treatment; and the U.S. FDA has approved it use for treatment of cancer.

There were many compelling medical and personal reasons for me in choosing PBT beyond those mentioned above, but I was not going to let my own ignorance get in the way. The ability to distinguish between opinion and fact was vitally important. The more I studied prostate cancer the more I felt drawn to PBT as my treatment path. The constant helicopter traffic is a reminder that help is on the way here at LLUMC. It is a comfort knowing “I am at the right place at the right time.”