For thousands of people battling cancer in East Tennessee, a $110 million dollar investment in the state's only proton therapy center could mean life-changing treatment.
The Provision Center for Proton Therapy opened this week in West Knoxville, and advocates say it can cut treatment times in half and treat cancer without the side effects of traditional cancer therapies.
When Tom Bomkamp and Gordon Webster each received cancer diagnosis two years ago, both East Tennessee natives wanted proton therapy.
"I made the choice almost immediately," said Webster after researching the therapy and hearing about it from a friend.
Bomkamp had already scheduled an alternative treatment when he discovered proton therapy.
"I canceled the surgery," said Bomkamp. Both men are now cancer free and say they were able to effectively treat their cancers without reducing the quality of their lives. They've become so passionate about the technology they're serving as "ambassadors" to new patients or prospective Provision patients.
But before the Provsion Center opened in Knoxville, the closest proton therapy available was in Jacksonville, Florida.
"Nine hours down there, it was terrible that it had to be that far," said Bomkamp, though he said the experience was life changing.
"It was a radiation vacation because my time was 10 o'clock in the morning and my tee time was at eleven," said Bomkamp.
This week, Provision Medical Director Dr. Marcio Fagundes started treating the facility's first six prostate cancer patients, though they intend to expand treatment to other types of cancer later on.
He says the treatment allows doctors to target only the cancerous area with radiation. They can control how much radiation is administered and how widely it spreads, sparing surrounding tissue.
"We're literally stopping the radiation on the target," said Fagundes. "That means minimizing any side effects."
American Cancer Society spokesperson Megan Brown says proton treatment is not widely offered, yet. The Provsion center is the fourteenth in the country, according to the facility's press release.
"It's really not been widespread because the machinery needed to deliver proton therapy is very expensive," said Brown.
It's an innovation that's made cheerleaders of Tom and Gordon who participated in a commercial for the treatment, painting their chests alongside five other men to spell out P-R-O-T-O-N.
"You go out and preach the gospel of proton because of the lack of side effects," said Webster.