Research leads Seattle geologist to proton therapy

David Raubvogel stands for a portrait in front of a moss covered, stone footbridge.

In 2018, Seattle geologist David Raubvogel discovered he had prostate cancer. Like many men over the age of 60, David was encouraged by his doctor to test his Prostate-Specific Antigen (PSA) levels. After two tests with consistently high PSA levels, his doctor encouraged a biopsy which confirmed a low-grade tumor.

When he found out he had cancer, David was at work. He remembers the moment he received the call from his doctor, who notified him of his diagnosis and promised that more information would come soon. With limited knowledge of prostate cancer, David was reasonably anxious about his diagnosis. His mind was now filled with questions on how this would impact his future, and he recalled taking a walk along the Seattle waterfront to contemplate the news.

“Is this life threatening? How is this going to affect my family? How will it affect my ability to do the things I love? What limitations would I be straddled with during treatment?’ Those were the questions on my mind,” David said. “I was lucky enough that I had a lot of options. The Swedish, UW, and Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center doctors all confirmed that there was nothing urgent to treat, and I was glad we caught it at the time we did.”

With plenty of reassurance from his care team, David knew he was in good hands and was optimistic about his options. He described the experience as, “a slight detour in my normal trajectory of life.”

David had multiple options after his care team found the tumor, including active surveillance to monitor PSA levels without treatment, surgery, and radiation. His doctor also suggested a clinical trial that had recently been expanded to include lower-stage prostate cancer like David’s. He participated in the trial for a few months, but ultimately decided to pull out in favor of active surveillance. After two years, he decided to seek radiation treatment.

As a scientist, David is passionate about doing thorough research. He hoped to find an option with the highest success rate of treating his cancer and the fewest side effects. One of his main concerns was how treatment could affect his urinary system, which was why he chose proton therapy over traditional photon radiation. Proton therapy can better protect the organs around the prostate from exposure to radiation, which means the likelihood of urinary problems would be lower. He rejected the surgical option out of concern over possible complications.

Earlier this year, David, now 65, had six weeks of proton therapy treatment at Fred Hutch to shrink his tumor. He is happy to report that his check-ins have been going well, and his PSA numbers remain low.

He encourages prostate cancer patients looking into proton therapy treatment to ask as many questions as possible and to consider every pro and con. David said that without research, he may have missed out on proton therapy, the option that was ultimately best for him. He has no regrets about his treatment and hopes that other patients will consider proton therapy if it is appropriate for their type and stage of cancer.

David is a New York native who moved to Washington with his wife, Annette, 30 years ago. Annette was incredibly supportive throughout his diagnosis and treatment. She helped David research different types of treatment, took him to his appointments, and provided emotional comfort. Because his diagnosis was not life-threatening, he felt it was easy to stay positive. His two sons were encouraging and thoughtful, but never expressed major concern once they realized David was in good hands. David experienced few side effects with little impact on his lifestyle, and his family’s positivity was a source of strength to him throughout the process.

Other friends and loved ones showed their support as well. He relied heavily on a book recommended by a friend, Dr. Patrick Walsh’s Guide to Surviving Prostate Cancer. “The book provided the most comprehensive information regarding prostate cancer diagnosis and treatment options under one cover,” said David.

He also reached out to another friend who was successfully treated with proton therapy at Fred Hutch about her experience. Her positive feedback influenced David’s evaluation and ultimate decision to treat his cancer with proton therapy.

David offered high praise for the staff at Fred Hutch’s proton therapy facility, even beyond his primary physician, Dr. Emily Weg. “The concierge team, nurses, and technicians went above and beyond to ensure my time in treatment was as smooth as possible,” he said. And because one of David’s main concerns was making sure his insurance would cover his treatment, he was happy to discover that patient care coordinators at Fred Hutch would advocate on his behalf with his insurance company so David could focus on his treatment.

David was able to continue his very active lifestyle throughout and after his treatment. He is an avid bike rider, skier, enjoys walking with his wife, and spending time outdoors.

Help Us Eliminate Cancer

Your gift will be triple-matched, making three times the impact for lifesaving research.