When doctors at USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center first told Russ Enyeart he needed radiation therapy to rid his body of prostate cancer, the now-66-year-old was ready to walk out the door of the hospital and away from the life-saving treatment.
“I was dead against radiation,” he said. “I was ready to die.” His wife, Mary Jo, had undergone radiation for breast cancer in 2000 at a hospital in Long Beach, and the treatment left her with bad burns and scar tissue.
But Russ, a former homicide detective, recalls now how he changed his mind. He went home, pored through information online and returned to USC Norris to see his radiation oncologist, Leslie Ballas, MD, armed with a litany of questions.
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“I started asking her questions, and I really got deep into it,” he said. “And boy, every question I had, she had the answer right there. She just wasn’t taking ‘no’ for an answer.”
Ballas’ attitude may have saved her patient’s life. His fears assuaged, he decided then and there to go through with the radiation. After 33 treatments, Russ is now cancer-free.
Russ’s story began in 2012. He was feeling just fine, but a routine visit to his general practitioner revealed that his PSA levels — which are often an indication of cancer cells in the prostate — were rising. Rather than undergo treatment right away, he was told to “wait and see” what happened.
Russ wasn’t interested in letting the disease progress any further than it already had. Instead, he decided to go to USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center.
Beginning the Fight
Following that procedure, he began his meetings with Ballas and launched radiation treatment that targeted the area surrounding the prostate in order to ensure that all the cancer cells were eradicated from his body.
Ballas answered all of his questions, met with him in person once a week and was available via text and email. “How many doctors can you text and have them get right back to you?” asked Enyeart.
But it wasn’t just Ballas who made his treatment at USC Norris so exceptional. From the soothing ambiance of the radiation room to the friendly front-desk staff to the exceptionally knowledgeable medical providers, Enyeart credits the entire Department of Radiation Oncology for making his treatment so successful.
“I never found one person that didn’t treat you like you were something special,” he said. “That whole staff is phenomenal.”
By the time his treatment was nearing its end, Mary Jo knew that she wanted to do something special to mark it. It is tradition for patients to ring a bell in the USC Norris Department of Radiation Oncology after they finish their last treatment, but Mary Jo wanted to go further than that. She contacted the university’s marching band, the Spirit of Troy, which agreed to surprise Russ — a die-hard USC football fan — by marching into the department playing the school’s fight song when he rang that bell.
It was a moment that no one who was present will ever forget. “I was shocked,” said Russ. “It showed how much they cared about me, and it just kind of brought everything together.”
For Ballas and the department’s staff, it was a reminder of the strength of the Trojan family. “It was memorable for everyone in the department,” she said. “It was a really big deal — it was quite a memorable thing.”
The song itself, notes Enyeart, sums up his experience at USC Norris perfectly. “It’s the whole ‘fight on’ concept,” he said. “It’s not just about football or baseball; it’s about everything that goes on in that hospital. Fight on. Having the band down there, the Spirit of Troy, and saying, ‘I got through this to live another day.’”
By Jessica Ogilvie
Visit the USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center radiation oncology program to make an appointment or for more information about our radiation oncology services.