Provision Cares Director of Medical Physics Marc Blakey gives business partners a tour of the new proton therapy facility on Thursday, March 1, 2018.//Photo by Brooke Wanser.
By BROOKE WANSER
When Terry Vinson was diagnosed with throat cancer in his lymph nodes and tonsils in 2015, he said a lot of people didn’t even know he had cancer.
The Franklin resident, who had worked in healthcare for many years, asked his doctor what the options were. “For your type of cancer, traditional radiation is what we’re going to do,” he was told.
“I’ve never done this before, but it wasn’t the right answer,” Vinson said. “It wasn’t what I needed to hear.”
In his research of alternative cancer treatments, he discovered proton therapy, where a machine called a cyclotron is used to pinpoint cancer cells, targeting diseased cells while minimizing damage to surrounding tissue.
Vinson went on to undergo successful treatment at the Provision Cares Proton Therapy Center in Knoxville, just the 13th proton therapy center in the United States when it opened in 2013.
“I’m telling you, there was divine intervention involved,” Vinson said Thursday, at a ceremony to celebrate the completion of the first Provision Care Proton Therapy Center in Middle Tennessee.
At the center, which will open this summer, the Williamson Inc., Chamber of Commerce hosted a reception ceremony to highlight the business’ anticipated economic impact for the area.
“It’s so much more than that,” said Allen Borden, the deputy commissioner of business, community and rural development with the state Department of Economic and Community Development. “It’s the advanced technology that this company is bringing not only to Tennessee but to the world.”
Franklin Mayor Ken Moore, county Mayor Rogers Anderson and Williamson, Inc. Chief Executive Officer and President Matt Largen also spoke, before awarding Sen. Jack Johnson an impact award for his business-friendly policies that helped convince Provision to come to the region.
During a tour, media, local government and business partners were invited to tour the building and see the technology behind the scenes.
ProNova Solutions, a subsidiary of Provision, developed the $44 million, 220-ton cyclotron that is used for the treatment. According to Provision’s Director of Medical Physics Marc Blakey, the ProNova team is working on a smaller, 90-ton cyclotron.
In 2005, Provision Healthcare was founded by Terry Douglass in Knoxville. The organization operates as a for-profit healthcare solutions company, while both the Knoxville and Franklin cancer centers are non-profits.
Since 2014, more than 70 Middle Tennesseans have traveled to Knoxville for the proton treatment, at one of 26 centers nationwide. Now, the increasingly popular treatment has a hub of its own in Williamson County.
Douglass said the patients typically undergo five treatments each week, for four to eight weeks.
“Being near the Williamson County Medical Center was very important to us as well,” he continued. “Franklin has just become a hub of healthcare services.”
For Vinson and many others, the therapy was life-changing, but not one doctors commonly recommend.
“You have to be an advocate for yourself,” Vinson advised, noting that many doctors will not mention the therapy since it is often not covered by insurance companies.
With his 35 treatments at 30 minutes each, spanning seven weeks, Vinson paid $85,000 out of pocket.
But John Yarborough, another Franklin resident, paid only $2,000 for his prostate cancer treatments at a Jacksonville, Florida center, while his insurance covered the rest.
Vinson said losing 40 percent of his salivary glands was the only remaining side effect of his treatment, which he corrects by taking two pills each day.
“It changed my life,” he said. “And I have better living because of it, not just life.”