We often find patients form friend groups while being treated at the UF Health Proton Therapy Institute. They meet during luncheons at the institute or while getting to know one another while waiting in the lobby.
“We were worried about a lot of things centered around the cancer,” Ron Cawthon said. “That was our primary focus (the first time they arrived). Being able to meet others in that state and bonding with them and their families enabled us to be happy and focus on having a good time together, letting Florida Proton handle the cancer.”
Ron recently sent in a snapshot of this “pod” of patients (as they called themselves) who all recently underwent prostate cancer treatment. Some of these men have completed their treatments, and many have attended each other’s Chime Ceremony – the celebration on the final day of treatment. In this group of men, it seems they are entertained by outdoing one another at the ceremony.
“I was able to get folks to sing ‘Jingle Chimes,’ a variation of ‘Jingle Bells’ in the middle of a hot summer day as I cut loose on those chimes!” Ron said.
His “pod” mate Gary Fiske thought he’d up the stakes and asked a friend to come and play the bagpipes during his chime ceremony.
“We’re like a band of brothers,” said Gary, who added that it’s important that they can relate to one another’s experiences. “We’re unique in the sense that we’ve had prostate cancer and chose proton therapy.”
John Youngs said of forming this group of friends: “It was a great group of folks — we shared a lot of personal details and challenges we faced and what awaits us in the future. Talking with fellow patients and going through the same treatment eased my apprehension.”
Jerry Weeks agreed that finding like-minded individuals was important.
“Our support group formed a special bond where we were able to talk about side effects we were experiencing, our personal views of the process and also the humorous side. The forming of the support group is one of the best ideas. This allows each person to vent and hear others with the same concerns. It also answers a lot of questions that we all had about the procedure.”
Youngs added that the culture at Florida Proton is very patient-centered and includes families, caregivers and supporters for those in treatment.
“My wife couldn’t say enough nice things about her experience,” Youngs said. “She attended the caregiver’s meetings. Her experience was similar to mine interacting with spouses. She can’t say enough about our experience together at Florida Proton.”
The “pod” of men plans to stay in touch, even though they’re from around the country. A reunion is already in the works for 2024. Ron has traveled from South Carolina to the institute to celebrate a few other men’s treatment completions. And Gary, who is a retired police officer from Jacksonville, has been able to meet up with some of the other men who live in the area or are still temporarily living in Jacksonville for treatment by arranging get-togethers like an evening barbecue.
When asked about survivorship, Scott Buckley had a powerful message.
“It (cancer) has not made me a survivor but has given me … LIFE!!! I know I have more days ahead of me to not worry about ‘surviving,’ but to embrace living! It’s not about surviving, but about living.”
It sounds like these men will be doing a lot of living together in the future while celebrating their cancer journey and friendship made at UF Health Florida Proton Institute.