I am confident most proton graduates will agree that receiving proton beam therapy for our various cancers—prostate cancer for me—was a surprisingly fantastic and certainly memorable experience. I chose to be treated at The University of Florida Health Proton Therapy Institute (UFHPTI) in Jacksonville. My fellow proton alumni and I can vouch for the fact that UFHPTI strives for excellence not only in the technical aspects of treating cancer, but also with the personal aspects of treating us like royalty. Proton graduates of similar facilities feel the same way about their alma maters.
Now it’s time for proton facilities to take it to the next level.
It was a tremendous challenge to identify even a few small, very specific areas for improvement in an already near-perfect approach …
The following are my insights and advice offered in all humility to those holding the power to tweak the system. It was a tremendous challenge to identify even a few small, very specific areas for improvement in an already near-perfect approach, but I did find a few. I hope they’ll be given careful consideration.
#1 Velvet Robes
This is the most obvious change to make, and we’ve all had this thought. The infamous open-back robes with the pretty little dots and awkward ties detract from an otherwise perfectly pleasant event. We get used to them but we don’t really like them.
Imagine the difference it would make for patients to be robed in plush velvet, something you could more likely envision worn by George Clooney than George Costanza. Standard one-size-fits-all robes are readily available and reasonably priced. For medical purposes we can wear them backwards without alteration. Take a look at this one on Amazon, which depicts an image of exactly how patients would feel adorned in plush velvet. So easy, yet so powerful. Black or burgundy would be best.
#2 Better Beverage Bar
At least at UFHPTI, “health” is in the name. So at the beverage bar in the lobby, why all the plain old painfully cold water? Especially for the “emptying and drinking” prostate patients who must guzzle many ounces before every treatment, why not be more creative? What difference does it make what we fill the bladder with? Why not make it more pleasurable and healthier at the same time?
Keep the water for traditionalists, but add the popular option of smoothies. Put a blender on the beverage counter with a basket of fresh fruits and vegetables nearby. Sure, it might cost a little more, but like proton itself this small infrastructure investment would be worth it. Just imagine all the smiling faces of patients with pleasantly full bladders ready for the beam.
#3 Perks for late appointments
Guys being treated for prostate cancer generally prefer early morning appointments. An early proton zap leaves the rest of the day free for pleasant activities like playing golf or tennis, roaming the beaches, or walking and wandering for exercise and pleasure. There is therefore intense competition for those limited early slots, which are assigned mostly based on seniority. Newbies get the late slots. Those approaching their final treatment have earned the early ones.
Burn some aromatic incense, add a splash of gin to the water in the cooler, and watch those evening slots become even more coveted …
The imbalance in this scheduling scheme could be equalized or even eliminated by providing perks during the less desirable time slots. This is analogous to the clever restaurant tactic of offering early bird specials during the less popular period before the primetime dinner crowd arrives. They use it because it works, and it would work with proton, too.
Imagine adding a happy hour jazz trio or string quartet into the mix every evening for patients scheduled between 5:00 and 7:00 PM. Following that, one or more massage therapists could roam the waiting area offering expert neck and shoulder massages to relieve the stress of the day. A relaxing foot massage could be reason enough to prefer a twilight time slot. A pedicure or manicure would work wonders. Burn some aromatic incense, add a splash of gin to the water in the cooler, and watch those evening slots become even more coveted than the early ones. Problem solved.
#4 Expanded free lunch program
One of the main incentives for choosing proton therapy is the free Wednesday lunch for past, present, and future patients.
This event allows patients to mingle in constructive ways that would not be possible without this ingenious and generous weekly opportunity.
So why just Wednesdays, and why just lunch? Why not expand the program? Provide free dinners on Tuesdays, happy hours on Thursdays, and maybe even a proton version of the ever popular Sunday brunch. For couples, have a proton date night (Saturday would work well). We proton graduates already feel like family, but we can’t all live together. So help us at least dine together!
#5 Better gantry names
We want to have fun while treating our cancer, and we naturally develop an alumnus-like attachment to our assigned treatment gantry. At UFHPTI there are three main gantries. They are referred to as red, blue, and yellow, which is certainly better that #1, #2, and #3, or A, B, and C. But still not very creative.
I was a “blue gantry guy,” which was fine in a color-coded sports team kind of way. But why stop there?
I was a “blue gantry guy,” which was fine in a color-coded sports team kind of way. But why stop there? Why not be more imaginative and bold with gantry labeling? Many ideas can be found in astronomy, astrology, and science fiction.
Imagine how much more interesting conversation would be with better gantry names.
Hey, which gantry is yours?
I’m assigned to the Starship Enterprise … They treat me in the Holodeck … I’m off to Pluto … Ah, Pluto is good, but I’m a Uranus guy … Well, here I go again into the Black Hole … I use the short cut through the Worm Hole … Time for my 3:00 meeting at Delta Force headquarters …
… many of us enjoy the proton therapy experience and we are surprisingly sad when it ends. We actually want more, not less.
Many patients appreciate the increasingly popular relatively new option of hypofractionation in proton therapy. This involves fewer treatments and lower costs, which can be helpful if time and money are an issue. But for patients with plenty of free time and lots of money, the opposite may be true.
The fact is, many of us enjoy the proton therapy experience and we are surprisingly sad when it ends. We actually want more, not less. Along with hypofractionated plans, why not offer a hypermultiplication protocol—more sessions at a premium cost? This would be regarded as a deluxe package, an extended radiation vacation.
With a wise and fortunate dose of foresight, many proton facilities have located near popular vacation sites—the year-round temperate climate of California, the beautiful beaches of Florida, the breathtaking mountains of Tennessee, the vast variety of Texas. It’s time to capitalize on that. Hypermultiplication is the perfect way to do it.
That’s my list for now, but I’ve undoubtedly missed a few great ideas. Email me your suggestions and maybe with your help this can become a two-part blog post. Thanks!