The Advocate: Bob Marckini’s Extraordinary Life after Prostate Cancer

Bob Marckini and daughter Deb Hickey.

By all accounts, Bob Marckini is remarkably accomplished. 

Marckini, a registered professional engineer (shown right, with daughter Deb Hickey), is a graduate of the MIT Greater Boston Executive Program and experienced in project engineering, project management, manufacturing management, plant management and division management in the photographic chemical, pharmaceutical, and specialty chemical industries. He is also a former senior vice president for a Fortune 500 company. 

What may be most remarkable about Bob, however, is what he has managed to accomplish after his prostate cancer diagnosis and treatment 24 years ago at the age of 57. 

“My brother had been diagnosed with prostate cancer a couple years prior, so my diagnosis wasn’t a complete surprise,” he recalls. “Nevertheless, it was still frightening, especially because I witnessed my brother’s experience with surgery, the blood loss, and the after-effects. I remember making a promise to myself at that time, that, ‘If I’m ever diagnosed with prostate cancer, I’m going to find a treatment less invasive and less punishing than radical prostatectomy; a treatment that destroys cancer and leaves the patient with excellent quality of life after treatment.’”  

Despite a urologist-recommended surgery in Boston, Bob began an exhaustive hunt for something better by researching all current treatments, meeting doctors representing each of the major options, and interviewing former patients. This meticulous approach didn’t surprise his daughter, Deb Hickey, in the least. 

“First, he’s a ‘recovering’ engineer and must research everything to make an informed decision,” Deb explained. “Second, he’d do just about anything to protect his family and place the least amount of worry on his daughters’ shoulders in such a situation. So, my father’s voice was relaxed and confident when he said, ‘Deb, I have prostate cancer. But you have nothing to worry about, because I’ve found a safe, non-invasive treatment called proton therapy and I’m going to be fine.’ And I believed he had it all under control.” 

Bob describes “stumbling” upon proton therapy during this time, which was then offered at only one location: Loma Linda University Cancer Center in California.  

“It sounded too good to be true,” said Bob. “But when I interviewed former proton patients – 56 in total – I found that it was, in fact, a viable treatment option which destroyed cancer at least as well as surgery and left the patient with excellent quality of life after treatment.” 

Many patients would be content with successful cancer treatment and a return to the life they knew, and rightly so. But Bob Marckini is made of slightly different stuff.  

He decided to write about his prostate cancer journey, diagnosis, and treatment in his book, You Can Beat Prostate Cancer and You Don’t Need Surgery to Do It, first published in 2006. In addition, Bob and five fellow Loma Linda patients formed a group to stay connected, with Bob volunteering to keep everyone updated through monthly emails. That group, which began with just six members shortly after Bob’s treatment in 2000, eventually grew into an influential advocacy organization. Today, the Brotherhood of the Balloon (BOB) boasts over 10,000 members from all 50 states and 39 countries. 

In 2010, when Bob was struggling to keep up with a membership database that was bursting at the seams; a small, outdated website; what had become a comprehensive 20-page monthly newsletter; and hundreds of monthly incoming emails from members and newly diagnosed men; he turned to his daughter for help. At the time, Deb was director of marketing for a Boston-based search engine marketing company. With a background in graphic design and years of experience in marketing and copywriting, she was well-equipped to assist.  

So, when Bob asked her to join as the director of operations, she hesitantly accepted. “I had no idea what it would be like to work with my father every day,” Deb said, “and I honestly wasn’t sure if a woman would be accepted in an all-male prostate cancer support group.” Fourteen years later, she couldn’t imagine doing anything else. 

These days, Deb handles all day-to-day activities of the BOB – including the research and copywriting on the monthly newsletter; website updates and maintenance; and email correspondence. 

In 2016, The National Association for Proton Therapy (NAPT) recognized Bob with the NAPT Lifetime Achievement Award at their annual conference held in New Orleans, LA. As founding executive director Len Arzt succinctly put it, “Next to Dr. James M. Slater [Loma Linda University Cancer Center], Bob Marckini has done more to increase patient access to proton therapy than anyone else. As the founder of the Brotherhood of the Balloon, the only patient advocacy group that can claim the majority of patients treated with a particular modality as members, Bob has provided thousands of prostate cancer patients with objective information that enables them to make informed choices about their care.” 

Bob and Deb joined COMPPARE’s Patient Stakeholder Group in 2018, and are influential in their work with other members, the coordinating staff, and co-PIs to develop and promote the study, recruit patients, and monitor its progress. 

“Not all prostate cancer treatment options are equal with regard to disease-free survival and quality of life after treatment,” said Bob. “The COMPPARE trial will answer important questions that will help future prostate cancer patients make informed decisions about their treatment choice.” 

“I believe the results of the COMPPARE trial will provide insurers with the data needed to make coverage and policy decisions around the use of proton therapy for prostate cancer,” Deb added.  

Both agree that continued patient engagement is critically important to achieving the study’s goals.   

“After cancer treatment, patients are greatly relieved that their treatment is over; they tend to want to forget about their cancer and get on with their lives,” Bob remarked. “They need to be reminded that their commitment to follow-up paperwork and surveys will greatly help the patients who come after us.”