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Days vs. months - CyberKnife treatment at Ascension Via Christi

When Virgil Miller was diagnosed with prostate cancer, he wasn’t eager to spend months getting treatment or recovering from surgery.
But because he was referred by his urologist to the Ascension Via Christi CyberKnife Center in Wichita for treatment, he didn't have to do either.

In just five sessions of an hour or less over a 10-day period, Virgil’s radiation therapy was complete.

And just like that, the Boeing retiree was back to his daily routine: helping his wife, Kathie, whose mobility is limited by a degenerative muscular disorder; caring for a flock of 11 exotic birds, most of them rescued by Kathie; and spending weekends assessing juvenile offenders for Sedgwick County. 

“The biggest challenge was getting up earlier,” says Virgil, whose appointments were generally at either 8 or 9 a.m. 

‘… nothing hurts’

Because CyberKnife can hone in on lethal cancerous or unhealthy tissue with pinpoint precision in just one to five treatments — and requires no incisions or sedation — it’s increasingly become the life- and time-saving cancer treatment-of-choice for patients and physicians alike.

“In terms of accuracy and precision for moving targets, it's hard to beat CyberKnife,” says David Bryant, MD, medical director of Radiation Oncology for Ascension Via Christi’s Wichita hospitals.

Virgil, who spent 25 years as a toolmaker and retired in 2003 to pursue his career as a licensed therapist, agrees.

“It's really rather clever,” says Virgil, whose background gives him a genuine appreciation for the technological marvel being used to defeat prostate and other cancers. “Nothing touches you, nothing hurts.”

CyberKnife’s robotic arm is made in Germany by the same company that creates the robotics for the automaking industry, says Jeff Berry, a medical physicist therapist at the CyberKnife Center. The robot is programmed with a customized treatment plan for each patient and has real-time, auto-correcting capabilities that allow it to stay on target, despite patient breaths or body changes such as the bladder filling up or gas moving through the intestine.

Virgil, who likes to stay active, found spending an hour lying still during treatment “rather boring.” To pass the time, he listened to audiobooks while comfortably dressed in his workout clothes.

“There was no hospital gown to put on and get chilly in all the wrong places,” says Virgil. 

Forging ahead 

Virgil finished his treatment and returned six months later to see Ascension Medical Group Via Chrsiti urologist Clay Lyddane, MD, to measure his prostate-specific antigen, or PSA, to determine the effectiveness of the treatment, and received a clean bill of health.

PSA control after five CyberKnife treatments alone is about 90 percent, says Bryant.

And that makes it a great option, says Virgil, when you’d prefer to spend your days living your life rather than fighting cancer.

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