DURANT, OK -- About 1.4 million people are diagnosed with cancer each year. Of that about 5,000 have anal canal cancer. A man in Durant with that rare type of has become the first to receive proton therapy for the rare diagnosis and now he wants to make others aware of the live-saving treatment option.
Dennis Starbuck spends most of his free time in his shop, tinkering with different items and making old things like this windmill new again.
But this spring it was Starbuck himself who was made new again.
"I feel like I’ve been handed a second part of my life again,” Starbuck said.
In March, Starbuck received an extremely rare diagnosis - he had anal canal cancer.
Without any treatment, the father and grandfather was given two years to live.
"I was devastated; I thought well that was the end of it all,” Starbuck said.
But what Starbuck called a death sentence, was turned around at the ProCure Proton Therapy Center in Oklahoma City.
"When we walked in there it was like walking the last mile but when we walked out of there it was completely different,” Starbuck said.
Starbuck received 28 days of proton therapy directed precisely at the cancer. Standard radiation or traditional X-ray therapy wasn't an option for Starbuck because it would have caused too much damage to the sensitive tissue and organs near the tumor.
"Protons are more like a firecracker, where X-rays are more like a bullet, meaning both will damage the cancer, but protons will do the damage to cancer with very little damage to the normal tissue around it,” Sameer Keole, M.D.
Dr. Keole says the proton therapy decreased the collateral damage to Starbuck's pelvic region by up to 60%.
"Protons will make this treatment course more tolerable and easier for the patients to get through it,” Dr. Keole said.
Starbuck was the very first patient in the country to receive proton therapy for his rare type of gastrointestinal cancer. While he says that feels very special, he says knowing he won't be the last makes him feel even better.
"I thought wow that's special, and then I thought maybe what I’m doing is going to help other people and it's helping a friend of mine right now,” Starbuck said.
The ProCure Proton Therapy Center in North Oklahoma City has been open for just a little more than a year, helping more than 190 other patients battle cancer.
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