Troy’s Story: Proton Therapy for Brain Cancer


Troy Witt, 65, a London, Kentucky resident and a self-proclaimed “country boy,” says he loves his family, fishing, woodworking and riding on his tractor.

But all of these activities have been put on hold since spring 2016 when Witt’s watery eye led him to his optometrist.

“He must have seen something in the back of my eye because he sent me for a CT scan,” he says. “They saw that mass.”

Witt says his daughter Rebecca Disher, who is a physician’s assistant at a local hospital in the Cincinnati area, did some investigating.

“She works with doctors, and she told them, ‘This is the only daddy I got. If it was your daddy, who would you go to?’” he says. “They told her to send me to UC (Health).”

Vincent DiNapoli, MD, PhD, a surgeon with UC Health and a member of the the Brain Tumor Center at the University of Cincinnati Gardner Neuroscience Institute and UC Cancer Institute, saw Witt in April, and an MRI was done. He found a brain tumor the size of a fist.

“Besides my watery eye, I never had any symptoms. Dr. DiNapoli scheduled me for surgery the next day,” says Witt, adding that he underwent two additional surgeries, one in May and one in June, to repair the area where the tumor was removed.

“They used skin from my arm and a vein from my leg,” Witt says. “Everyone was just as nice as they could be—from the doctors to the nurses to the people at the front desk. I had a lot of people praying for me, too—from my church family back home clear out to California. After every surgery, I was up and walking the next day, as if nothing had happened. It was the great physicians, but also, it was the Lord. I thank Him for all he brought me through.”

Witt says during follow up appointments, a remaining piece of tumor was found, along with other small cancerous spots surrounding the area, which made him a candidate for proton treatment.

Proton therapy, a form of radiation treatment used for certain types of cancers, delivers radiation to a tumor area with remarkable precision, sparing healthy tissues. Proton therapy works by extracting positively charged protons from hydrogen gas and accelerating them through a cyclotron (a particle accelerator) up to nearly two-thirds of the speed of light. The protons are guided to the tumor site by magnetic and electrical fields. They are propelled with just enough energy to reach a precise point in the tumor and then stop before they can harm nearby, uninvolved tissue.

Witt is one of the first patients to be treated at the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center/UC Health Proton Therapy Center, which officially opened in August 2016 and is only one of 25 in the country. It is also the only facility in the world with a gantry (radiation treatment room with a moveable beam) dedicated exclusively to cancer research.

Witt, who received daily treatments for 7 weeks beginning Oct. 5, completed his last treatment Nov. 21. He stayed with his daughter and her children, grand-daughter Elizabeth Purcell and grandson Evan Purcell, in Fairfield, Ohio, during therapy stints.

“I love being able to see them and spend time with them,” he says, “and Dr. (John) Breneman is a fine fella, too. He and the rest of the folks (at the Proton Therapy Center) take good care of me.”

Breneman, MD, is medical director of the center, a professor emeritus of radiation oncology and adjunct professor of neurosurgery at the UC College of Medicine, as well as chief of pediatric radiotherapy at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center and a member of the UC Gardner Neuroscience and UC Cancer Institutes. He oversaw Witt’s therapy at the facility.

With treatment behind him, Witt is simply looking forward to getting back to the things he loves.

“I’m just looking forward to being pure old me again—playing Frisbee with my dog, spending my time with my little wife of 50 years (Brenda), planting a garden in the spring,” he says. “The Lord has made this easier for me, and my family and friends have been with me every step of the way. I’m a blessed man.”

— Katie Pence


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