HOUSTON – From the start, our colleague and friend, chief meteorologist Frank Billingsley allowed us to follow his cancer journey.
You can see what we see. His optimism and cheerfulness doesn't stop when the cameras quit rolling.
Actually, it’s been said he has a heart of gold. Now he's hoping gold will save his life.
He's making personal decisions, with our camera inside the doctor's office, about how to treat his prostate cancer. It’s a discussion one in nine men will have in their lifetime.
Dr. Steven Canfield, UT Health and Memorial Hermann urologist, said while many men can opt for surveillance, meaning you don't do anything but watch for changes, sometimes surgery is required. The surgery is invasive and can result in persistent side effects like incontinence and sexual dysfunction.
“Of the first things you'll have to decide, if you have local prostate cancer that needs to be treated, is whether you're going to pursue surgical treatment, which is removal of the prostate… or radiation therapy and that's for people who don't want to surgery or maybe are not healthy enough to go through surgery and that is also quite effective. Each has its own sets of risks and side effects that can occur,” Canfield said.
Billingsley does not need surgery, but he has to do something because his cancer is considered more advanced. Finding the procedure with the fewest side effects has been his biggest challenge so far.
“You're trying to make decisions while you’re in a fog that you have cancer and that it might've spread, and you might die,” Billingsley said.
Billingsley, the constant scientist, agreed to be somewhat of a medical guinea pig. For his treatment, he chose to be part of a clinical trial that injects gold into his body to fight cancer cells.
“It's basically putting gold nanoparticles into you, the cancer sponges them up, they go in with a laser and they heat that laser with the gold particles and it kills it,” Billingsley said.
The nanoparticles will travel through the heart and pump to other parts of his body before attaching to cancer. After they attach, a doctor will use light to kill the nanoparticles and cancer cells nearby.
Naomi Halas from Rice University invented this treatment.
“So if the particles are placed in a tumor site then you can read them with light that penetrates through the body and the nanoparticles will absorb the light, convert the light to heat and then very gently they will, they will induce hyperthermia and destroy just tumor cells which they’re directly adjacent to,” Halas said.
“If it doesn't work, then the other options are still there,” Billingsley said.
But as of now, the other options seem unnecessary. Billingsley had half a dozen bags of gold nanoparticles circulating in his system for a day and doctors zapped the cancer the nanoparticles bonded to.
It will take a few months before a biopsy can confirm the procedure went well but early MRI results are optimistic.
It’s good news for a man who now has (and always had) a heart of gold.