A Fine-Tuned & Well-Orchestrated Symphony

Posted by on Friday, August 29th, 2014

Gene & Group with fedoras

PHOTO CAPTION:  Recent patient and new Proton Ambassador Gene Ponkauskas (second from the right) was known for wearing his stylish fedora every day.  On his graduation day at the completion of his treatment, the clinical staff surprised Gene and wore fedoras in honor of him. 

You may recall last week’s video blog featuring Gene Ponkauskas and his patient experience while undergoing proton therapy treatment, especially his love of the Wellness Center here on the Provision campus.  He graciously wrote a lovely newsletter article for us to recap his treatment journey.  It was such a moving piece, we just had to share it with you.  Here it is, in his own words:

As my journey at the Provision Center for Proton Therapy comes to an end and I leave to “carry on” as the saying goes, I go with a heavy heart. Looking back, it is these incredible talented, dedicated, caring, and professional people, all of whom teamed together to make my time with prostate cancer and its treatment a pleasant and most memorable experience. Pleasant and memorable for most are not words one would ordinarily associate with cancer but for me, given the alternatives, they are most fitting. It is remarkable to think that the staff of the Provision Center for Proton Therapy, in their short life together, have grown into this amazing center of hope and restoration to those of us who suffer from one of many forms of cancer.

I first heard the word cancer from my primary care physician at the VA who referred me to the urologist and after a most unpleasant biopsy discovered a problem from a surgical procedure some 50 years ago. This being said, I had limited entry to the one area which I later learned my future therapist would explore on a daily basis throughout my treatments… I’LL JUST SAY, THEIR KINDNESS AND GENTLENESS WAS MOST APPRECIATED.

Once it was confirmed that it was cancer it began with a parade of options which we, who have been there, are all too familiar with. Surgery, radiation, seeds and one urologist even suggested waiting and watching because, “You have a better chance of being hit and killed by a tour bus off the planet of Mars than to die from prostate cancer, and at your age you will most likely die of something else.” Needless to say first, it was cancer and second “at my age”, how dare he; I have a lot of life yet to live.

After exploring the options laid out to me and with the prospect of the peripheral ramifications from diapers, incontinence and impotency, along with a whole host of unpleasant and horrific possibilities, they all were confident they could remove the cancer…BUT!!  It was that BUT that lead to my wife’s and my belief that there had to be something else because up to that point we didn’t see any type of outcome that gave us any comfort until we requested a package from Provision Center for Proton Therapy. From that point on I’ll repeat what a pleasant, memorable experience it has been. From our initial consultation with Dr. Marcio Fagundes to the last insertion of my final balloon and last treatment I feel none the worse for wear and, as far as I can tell, all systems remain fully functional.

As I recount my journey, I see the Provision Center as a fine-tuned and well-orchestrated symphony. Initially I saw Dr. Fagundes as the conductor, but have come to believe him to be the instrument in which a much higher power has placed the baton. Let me begin with the brass, and what would a symphony be without brass. The therapists who administered the daily treatments are indeed the players of the brass and they play it well, thanks to a mystery group of instrument technicians who fine tune that brass to each parent’s specific need.

Of course, to keep our full attention, there is plenty of liquid refreshment and each attendee is given a balloon as a remembrance only just to be taken back as you leave their arena. Not that I know of anyone who has asked to keep theirs. Yes, this symphony has brass!! Mellowing the brass are the strings which is the medical team that reads our vitals and a lot more to balance out the sometimes overpowering brass.

Between the rhythm of the brass and the strings there is that one element which keeps everything running on time and in sync, and that is the percussions. Each performance, as we lay motionless, listening to the clunks, whirrs, bells and chimes, this symphony has its own master percussionist. Personally, I’ve heard those sounds, along with a few others that some might think did not belong in the tune I expected to be playing, but I disagree. Let’s just say, hearing a strange sound at a symphony most of the time would not be a good thing.

And finally, harmony, that being the support staff, they always present a supportive staff which blends all the sounds together. This makes the beautiful music of the Provision Center for Proton Therapy for all of us who have had the good fortune to hear. Yes, the Provision Center for Proton Therapy is a Symphony, but no encore for me…………. just PLAY ON, OH YES, PLEASE DO PLAY ON!!!!!!

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Proton Therapy Patient Experience: Gene Ponkauskas

Posted by on Saturday, August 23rd, 2014


Recent proton therapy patient, graduate and new proton ambassador Gene Ponkauskas, was a frequent visitor to the Wellness Center while he underwent his eight weeks of proton therapy treatment.  He took full advantage of the opportunity to use the comprehensive facility while going through treatment.  Conveniently located right next to the Provision Center for Proton Therapy, we encourage patients to use the Wellness Center as part of their wholistic path to healing.  Because Gene did not suffer any adverse side effects, such as fatigue or nausea, he was able to exercise every day after he received his proton therapy treatment.  Known for wearing his fedora every day, Gene was a a joy to be around and an inspiration to everyone he met.  Watch his video to learn more.

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First Annual SK8 to ELIMIN8 Cancer Raises $8K

Posted by on Friday, August 15th, 2014

Sk8 to Elimin8 Cancer Fundraiser

On Friday August 8, 2014, the inaugural Sk8 to Elimin8 Cancer event took place at Cool Sports, Home of the Icearium, in Farragut TN, with the invitation to join “Team Scott” on this worthy cause.

People of all ages came out to skate for a great cause.  More than 100 people came out to pledge their support in the fight against cancer.  Several families and their children hit the streets to raise pledges and donations for the event.  There were three children and their families that were extremely successful and raised more than $1,000 each.  One of which was a young 6th grader, Maggie Comer.  She was determined in her efforts and raised a grand total of $4,000!  Scott Hamilton commented on Maggie’s passion via email “Wow!  So young to be a philanthropist!  Creating opportunities that allow young people to know they can make a difference is wonderful.”   Because of her achievement, she and her family will receive dinner and event show tickets to the 2014 Scott Hamilton and Friends Show on Ice, on Saturday December 6th at the Knoxville Civic Coliseum and the Knoxville Convention Center.  She will also have the opportunity to meet and have a photograph with Olympic gold medalist Scott Hamilton at the event.

Provision CARES Foundation considered this event to be a big success!  With the help of the community, we are extremely happy to have raised a grand total of $8,000!  This event would not have been remotely possible or even successful without the help of Nadia Kogeler, the General Manger at Cool Sports, and Cool Sports and their employees for their help to raise awareness for this event.  Cool Sports is a major sponsor in this event as well as the December 6 event and made a donation back to Provision CARES Foundation that evening.   “This was a first annual event,” said Les Fout, Director of Provision CARES Foundation, “and we look forward to continuing and expanding this fun and successful night of fundraising.”

For more information about Provision CARES Foundation please visit www.provisioncares.org.


Nancy Howard is Vice President of Patient Services

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Provision Treats 100th Patient

Posted by on Friday, August 8th, 2014


The Provision Center for Proton Therapy, Tennessee’s first and only proton therapy treatment facility, celebrated the treatment of its 100th patient today.  Located in Knoxville on the Dowell Springs medical campus, the first patient was treated back in January with this revolutionary and accurate cancer treatment available at only in a handful of cities in the U.S.

Mr. Marshall Munro from Kingsport, Tennessee, completed his treatments today and gained the designation of patient number 100.  Munro completed  40 treatments for prostate cancer.  He traveled four hours round trip from his hime in Kingsport to Knoxville for 40 treatments.  “That’s 10,000 miles and two oil changes,” joked Munro, “but I’m very happy with my decision and it was definitely worth it.”

Provision’s third treatment room is scheduled to open in early fall. Once the third treatment room opens the Provision Center for Proton Therapy will have the ability to provide life-saving cancer treatment to as many as 90+ patients per day.

“The treatment of our 100th patient is an exciting achievement,” said Mary Lou DuBois, President of Provision Center for Proton Therapy.  “We are blessed and honored to provide our community and this region with the most compassionate and effective cancer treatment available today. ”


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Provision Welcomes Dr. Tamara Vern-Gross

Posted by on Friday, August 1st, 2014

welcome-tamara (3)

Board certified radiation oncologist Tamara Vern-Gross, DO, FAAP, has joined Provision Center for Proton Therapy.   Dr. Vern-Gross specializes in palliative medicine and pediatrics, with specific research interest in the diagnosis and treatment of central nervous system tumors, sarcomas, breast cancer, gastrointestinal malignancies, chest wall/lung tumors, and pediatric malignancies.

“I am really excited to become part of the team here at Provision,” said Dr. Vern-Gross.  “Ever since my first day here, everyone has made me feel right at home.  It feels wonderful to be part of an organization where the priority is working together to provide the best care for our patients.”

Originally from Chicago, Dr. she received her undergraduate degree from Northwestern University and her medical degree from the Des Moines School of Osteopathic Medicine.  After a Pediatric residency at Advocate Christ Hope Children’s Hospital in Chicago, her specific interests in improving quality of life and optimizing symptom management led her to pursue the Harvard Palliative Medicine Fellowship at Massachusetts General Hospital.  She subsequently completed her Radiation Oncology training at Wake Forest Baptist Health in Winston-Salem, NC. She comes to the Provision Center for Proton therapy after a Fellowship in Pediatric Proton Therapy at the University of Florida Proton Therapy Institute.    Dr. Vern-Gross is board-certified in Radiation Oncology, Palliative Medicine, and Pediatrics.

She is the author of a number of book chapters and peer-reviewed publications.  She embraces family centered-care with a focus on improving disease outcomes and cure rates, minimizing the late effects of radiation therapy, and addressing survivorship concerns for both children and adults.

When she is not working, Dr. Vern-Gross enjoys spending time with her husband and visiting with her family in the Midwest. She enjoys cooking for and entertaining friends and family; however, she prefers her husband’s culinary creativity.  Leisure activities include music (piano/cello/elective listening), horseback riding, windsurfing, great conversation, and indulging in a rare lazy Saturday afternoon nap.

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