Former Seattle Mariners head athletic trainer chose proton therapy

Rick Griffith

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“You have to trust the process.” This is the mantra Rick Griffin, athletic trainer emeritus for the Seattle Mariners and former head athletic trainer for 35 years, always shared with players as he helped them recover from an injury and safely return to the field.

When it came time to take his own advice, Rick was ready.

It all started at the beginning of spring training in 2017. A standard physical exam revealed that Rick had elevated prostate-specific antigen (PSA) levels—often an indicator of prostate cancer. Throughout spring training Rick underwent various tests and on opening day in Anaheim, California, he received the news. He had prostate cancer.

As soon as Rick returned to Seattle, he sought cancer care immediately and successfully underwent prostate cancer surgery. For the next few years, his doctors monitored his PSA levels to ensure they weren’t increasing, which could be a sign of recurring cancer. However in 2019, Rick’s PSA levels began rising again. He decided to undergo additional radiation treatment to address the increase quickly.

He took charge of his care by researching proton therapy—a highly-targeted form of radiation with the goal of protecting surrounding tissue. Rick felt proton therapy was the best fit because it was associated with fewer short- and long-term effects. His decision was reinforced after meeting a fellow prostate cancer patient who was undergoing a more common form of radiation called photon therapy. The patient shared some negative side effects he was experiencing and recommended that Rick explore an alternative radiation treatment if possible.

Rick and his care team were eager to move forward with proton therapy at the SCCA Proton Therapy Center in early 2020, however, he was scheduled to begin treatment just as the COVID-19 pandemic hit Washington. After careful consideration, Rick and his care team decided it was best to postpone his treatment a few weeks until April.

“Cancer diagnoses don’t stop during a pandemic. Our priority at the Center is to maintain a safe and welcoming environment for all of our patients,” said Annika Andrews, president and CEO of the SCCA Proton Therapy Center. “In response to these unprecedented times, we implemented new protocols including social distancing, universal masking, and enhanced cleaning measures across the facility. We also strongly encourage individuals to continue receiving their routine cancer screenings because delaying screenings or treatment can result in more advanced stage cancers that are less treatable.”

Battling cancer during the pandemic can be daunting, but it’s important to remember that patients can still safely receive treatment. Rick encourages other cancer patients to carefully monitor their symptoms and to consult with their doctors to make the care decision that’s best for them.

After about eight weeks of 15 to 20-minute treatments, Monday through Friday, Rick wrapped up his proton therapy at the end of June. In addition to trusting the process, he attributes his mental preparedness—a skill he preached to all his players rehabilitating from an injury—to helping him get through the challenge of radiation.

Today, Rick is feeling healthy and enjoying his time on his 20-acre property in Montana. Rick will assist on special projects as needed and he’ll definitely watch every game. Go Ms!

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