Curtis Alston, Thoracic Patient

patient-curtis.jpgOn the surface, it might be hard to see what the Maryland Proton Treatment Center (MPTC) could have in common with an elementary school. But St. Mary’s County Public Schools Supervisor Curtis Alston feels there are many things schools could learn from MPTC.

“I want to take this environment, this practice, back to our schools,” Curtis says.

Curtis is being treated for thymic carcinoma, a condition that affects the thymus, a small organ in the upper chest. When his journey began, he visited a number of hospitals and sometimes was left in the waiting room for hours without updates.

When he came to MPTC, he noticed an immediate difference.

“The valet driver knew my name and my appointment time by my second visit. There has been constant communication with the staff…This staff makes me feel more like family than a patient.”

Curtis would like to see teachers treat parents the same way, to make it clear that parents are part of the team in educating their children. He enjoyed touring the center to get a bigger-picture understanding of what goes into his treatment, and he also appreciated taking part in a town hall meeting with William F. Regine, MD, FACR, FACRO, the Isadore and Fannie Schneider Foxman Chair and Professor of Radiation Oncology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, and the Executive Director of MPTC.

“When principals have back to school nights, they should have the same attitude Dr. Regine has,” Curtis says, meaning that the school staff should give parents the details about the plans for their children’s education, even if it seems “over their head.”

Curtis was initially skeptical about radiation due to concerns about his heart. He brought his PET scan to Dr. Steven Feigenberg, who asked if Curtis would be interested in proton therapy.

“With conventional radiation, the heart and the opposite lung receive a substantial dose of radiation that can have side effects. With proton therapy, the dose to the heart and lung are reduced making this treatment substantially safer,” Dr. Feigenberg says.

“My wife and I researched it for a week and then I told him I was interested. We set up a 5 week plan,” Curtis says.

Curtis stayed in Baltimore during treatment and returned to St. Mary’s County on weekends.

In addition to his career in public schools, Curtis is a fitness instructor with a focus on spinning. While he was in Baltimore, he would walk or run a mile on the treadmill and do strength training each morning and afternoon. On the weekends he went to the gym and did an hour of cardio and strength training.

“I was able to continue my individual fitness plan while I was in Baltimore during treatment.”

His message to others diagnosed with cancer is: “Look at your options and ask questions. You are in control of your body.”

In his free time, Curtis enjoys gardening and spending time with his wife and two children. This summer he harvested his vegetable garden and planted two fig trees.

 “I don’t wear gloves, you have to feel the dirt!”

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