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A KOTZEBUE dad diagnosed with prostate cancer says his ‘life has been saved’ thanks to state-of-the-art treatment. Mitch Lewis, a state trooper, flew 4350 miles from his home to Prague, Czech Republic for proton beam therapy.
Mitch, 55, who featured on the TV show ‘Alaska State Troopers’, has a family history of prostate cancer and his grandfather died of the disease. So when his PSA level – the hormone which measures the level of prostate-specific antigen in the blood – began to soar, he knew it was time to take action.
Mitch said: “I knew from an early age that I needed to be keeping an eye on certain things and take care of myself. “I changed health clinics and during that change, according to my records, my PSA level was on the rise and the doctor told me they wanted to do a blood test. “I went for a digital exam and they felt an anomaly. Long story short, they found I had cancer with a Gleason score of 7.
“I was 52 at the time, which was a little younger than I anticipated it happening. When my doctor said I had a ‘little bit’ of cancer I jumped straight on the computer. I started looking at all the different ramifications of treatment choices.”
Mitch, whose wife was a nursing student at the time, said options available to him were a surgical prostatectomy, which would mean removing the prostate, or photon treatment. He said: “I figured out pretty quickly that I was not going to have surgery. I came into contact with a man who had and he had been left with incontinence and had to wear a catheter. His sexual function had gone.”
Mitch says that as proton beam therapy wasn’t covered on his insurance he called five different centers in the US to enquire. Each center said treatment would cost between $180,000 and $230,000.
“If I worked as a clerk in my office instead of in law enforcement, I would have been covered,” Mitch said. “I was so close but so far away. “I was convinced I was better off just dying with this. I thought that as this was a slow growing cancer I would probably have five to 10 years of really good life left before it knocks me down. “I’d rather have 10 years of intimacy with my wife than nothing.”
While Mitch grew content with the idea of living with the disease, his family did not feel the same way. “They were really frustrated when I said I would just die from this,” he said. “They said that while it didn’t matter to me, it mattered to them. It was quite a journey for everyone.”
Mitch had previously looked abroad for dental treatment for his daughter, so began to research cancer care overseas. His research first took him to Korea, and then to Italy, before he finally landed on the Proton Therapy Center in Prague, the capital of the Czech Republic.
Mitch said: “From the start, it was a wonderful experience, and I say that with hindsight. “The treatment I got surpassed anything I’ve ever received anywhere in the world.”
Proton therapy is a type of radiotherapy which uses an accelerated beam of positively-charged particles to attack cancerous cells. Unlike traditional radiotherapy using x-rays, it can pinpoint the exact area to target, meaning less damage to surrounding tissue and fewer unnecessary side effects. It’s not suitable for all cancers, but can be used to treat prostate cancer, brain cancer, head and neck tumors, and cancer in the lungs, breasts, and liver.
Mitch received five ‘fractions’ of treatment over the course of two weeks. When he wasn’t being treated, the father enjoyed seeing the sights. He said: “I felt so great I would go out exploring the city, sightseeing and enjoying a great meal.”
Mitch, who is originally from Michigan but moved to Alaska in 1981, says the experience has now ‘changed his life’ for the better. He said: “When I talk about it it becomes really emotional for me really quickly. I feel really blessed.
“My grandfather didn’t have this opportunity and it could have changed his life drastically. “I’m 35lb lighter and healthier and my blood pressure is way down. I’m still grey and balding but I’m healthier and I look healthier. It was a wake-up call. “My wife and I have been together for 36 years and we are as happy now as we have ever been. I’m happy to be around to enjoy her even more.”
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