Dr. James Gray has been treating people with cancer for decades. Currently the medical director and radiation oncologist with Provision CARES Proton Therapy Nashville, he now knows what it’s like to be not only a doctor at the center, but a patient as well. He was diagnosed and treated for prostate cancer in 2019.
“I see myself as extremely blessed and privileged that I was in a situation to really understand it and to make a decision in a way that the average patient couldn’t,” says Dr. Gray. “I was also blessed that I had access to an absolute top-level technology.”
Proton therapy is a form of radiation therapy, and, he says, is arguably the most advanced form of radiation therapy that we have available to kill cancer cells.
“With the machine that delivers proton therapy, we can put the energy essentially more precisely on the target, whether it’s the prostate gland or a tumor in the brain,” says Dr. Gray. With the support of his family, friends, and colleagues, he felt completely enveloped in care which gave him an overall sense of calmness.
“I wish I could impart that sense of calm upon my patients to allow them to feel more comfortable about going through treatments,” says Dr. Gray. “We have a great piece of equipment, we have great people operating it, and we have a great nursing staff; we’re going to take very good care of you.”
His treatment, he says, went well and his PSA levels are responding nicely. Of course, as he tells his patients, you have to monitor a cancer for many years to make sure it’s truly gone. “I was cursed with cancer, but it was a highly curable cancer,” says Dr.
Gray. “I think it helps me empathize with someone dealing with the fear factor, but everybody’s experience is different. There are different scales of this, and I have to rely on my professional training to understand what patients go through.”
Even though he was fearful when he heard the cancer diagnosis, his background prepared him for what he was about to endure. He also knew the odds were in his favor. “I could discipline myself and step back to being a statistician,” he says. “I knew what the numbers were, and how to go through this, and I thought things were going to go just fine. I’ve spent the majority of my adult life studying this disease, treating this disease, and managing patients with this disease.”
He says he was fortunate to be diagnosed with the type and stage of cancer he was, and was thankful it could be managed within his busy lifestyle. He only missed two days of work while going through treatment, which also included taking hormone blocking medicine.
Regarding cancer treatment, “We are getting better,” says Dr. Gray. “That means we are seeing a higher number of cure rates with a lower number of complications, but until we reach a 100% cure rate and a zero percent complication rate, we still have work to do.”
Pull quote: “I was cursed with cancer, but it was a highly curable cancer. I think it helps me empathize with someone dealing with the fear factor, but everybody’s experience is different.”