September 1, 2015 was the beginning of what Shacklefords, Virginia native Don Walton called “a double whammy” in his life. He was almost finished restoring his century-old home, originally the home place of his great grandparents, when one night he was awakened to the sight of flames roaring around him. Though he escaped without injury, Don’s home burned completely to the ground as a result of a malfunctioning AC window unit. “I lost everything I had,” he says. “I had to pick my life up and start from scratch.”
Almost exactly a year later, he visited his general physician for a routine physical. “I had gotten my new house built, my life was starting to come back together…I felt like I was good to go,” Don remembers. But a week later, his doctor called and asked for a second round of blood work due to an apparent increase in his PSA level, which can reflect abnormal cell growth. When the test confirmed a PSA increase from 2.5 to 7.0 within just three months, Don was sent to a urologist.
By December 2016, Don’s biopsies indicated prostate cancer with a fairly aggressive Gleason score of 7. “A cancer diagnosis was quite a blow to my spirit,” he admits. In otherwise good health with no symptoms or family history of prostate cancer, Don says he was floored. “I will never miss a yearly physical,” he often tells people today.
At age 53, Don was not encouraged to pursue radical prostate removal. Instead, his urologist referred him to Riverside’s Williamsburg Radiation Therapy Center. “I immediately fell in love with it,” Don says. “The awesome level of service, compassion, knowledge and everything that I experienced there—I just can’t put it into words.
“From the front desk to the technicians and the physician, Dr. Chisam, I felt like part of the family,” Don says. “Everyone was friendly, personable and conscientious. I expected it to be the worst, and it turned out to be the simplest, easiest, most technologically advanced thing I’ve ever experienced. I had my badge, checked in and went right to my dressing room. I was fortunate that my job was close enough that I was on the table at 7:30 in the morning and generally at work before 8:30.” Throughout his 42 radiation treatments, Don didn’t lose any time from his job in the parts department at Holiday Chevrolet.
Though some setbacks at the end of Don’s treatment lengthened his recovery time and eventually necessitated time off from work, Don never lost trust in the care he was receiving. In fact, his experience has changed his perspective about local health care. “I have lived from the west coast to the east coast and never have I felt as good about my medical care as I have here in Williamsburg, Virginia,” Don says. “They have given me nothing but A+, 5-star treatment. Ironically, two or three years prior, I had fussed at my father for seeing a little small-town doctor instead of going to a big city. Lo and behold, that small-town doctor is the one who found my situation and saved my life. When you live long enough, you eat words.”
During Don’s treatment experience, his love for music was a source of bonding for him and his radiation therapists. “They were really enthralled by the music that I would select and sing to while I was getting my treatment. I actually dedicated songs to different technicians,” Don says with a laugh. “I’m truly blessed that my doctor referred me to Riverside Radiation Therapy Center. I felt like I’d known those technicians all their lives. I rang the bell and we all cried and hugged after my last treatment. A large number of people I know from this community have been treated there and I have not heard one bad thing,” Don says. He still drops by on occasion and brings puzzles for the other patients.
With a positive outlook, Don is enjoying the home he has rebuilt on his family’s property, within a few miles of his parents and all four of his siblings. Every other Thursday night, family, friends and neighbors gather at his father’s massive garage, known as the “Dew Drop Inn,” to listen to musicians from all over Virginia. Don sings and plays rhythm guitar to gospel, country and bluegrass tunes—all acoustic. “It’s a little Grand Ole Opry,” he says. In his 38-foot motorhome, Don also travels to local bluegrass festivals, where he enjoys smoking pork for band members, including some pretty famous friends like the Bluegrass Brothers and Rhonda Vincent and the Rage.
“I refuse to let any of it—the fire, the cancer—get me down,” he says. “I’m not through here yet. I have lots to do, places to go, people to see. I love my career. I just love life. I’ve got the wind back in my sails. I’m feeling confident that the good Lord is taking care of everything and I’m going to be okay. I’m really looking forward to a long, happy, productive life. Sometimes it’s hard to see the forest for the trees, but I’m truly blessed in so many ways.”
A September check-up showed Don’s PSA level had fallen to 3.8 (a normal level is usually below 4.0), much to his and his doctor’s delight. “I’m exhilarated,” he says. “It makes me certain that all the effort has been worth it. I have great reason to sing some good hymns.”