'Radiation vacation' and other medical tourism contribute estimated $23M to Jacksonville economy

by: Michael Yoshida Updated:

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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - In the past year, Action News Jax has shown you a local hospital's unique treatment for cancer. It's called proton therapy, and more people are now coming to Jacksonville specifically to get care they can't get anywhere else.

That includes Beth Semikin. The 22-year-old has traveled all the way from England because she was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer and was given only a 25 percent chance to survive.

On Friday, Semikin started the next step in her journey to beat that rare cancer, epithelioid sarcoma.

“It’s very scary, 'cause you kind of assume the worst,” Semikin said.

Friday, she went through the first of nine proton therapy treatments. Proton therapy is an advanced form of radiation that targets a precise area, reducing the damage to healthy tissues and organs. The side effects may be fewer in number and less severe than side effects from other cancer treatments.

“You’re confronted with this awful situation that no parent should ever, ever have to go through. You just go through the journey and every day is a new day and that’s the way we live now,” said Semikin's mom, Allison.

A frightening reality that the Semikin family has faced since Christmas of 2014. Since then, Beth Semikin has had many surgeries, including one to remove a tumor and repair her spine.

“She went to hell and back during that operation. To see her walking with crutches, sometimes without now, it’s phenomenal. She’s just an inspiration to all our family and her friends. We’re just so proud of her," Allison Semikin said.

At one point, Semikin even thought she had beat her cancer.


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"When I found out that it had come back, that was kind of when the walls all kind of close in and time seemed to slow down,” Semikin said.

Semikin’s fight has now brought her to Jacksonville and the UF Health Proton Therapy Institute, which has treated over 6,000 patients from 49 states and 30 countries.

“We don’t have this treatment in England at the moment. I honestly just sat in the doctor’s office and said 'why don’t we go to Florida?' We’re just an easy little family that live in a little house in England. It was bizarre but here we are and she’s being zapped by these amazing things and they’re going to make her better and well,” Semikin's mom said.

“Well actually, it’s been kind of nice. We call it our ‘radiation vacation,’” Semikin said.

A trip across the ocean for treatment that doctors say when finished will allow Beth to live a healthy life.

“It kind of shows you that you don’t have time to waste and you can’t be scared of doing things,” Semikin said.

Once Beth finishes her proton therapy treatment in Jacksonville, she’ll fly back home to England where she’ll undergo chemotherapy as she continues her recovery.

Visit Jacksonville estimates that medical tourism to Jacksonville facilities like the UF Health Proton Therapy Institute contributes $23 million a year to the local economy.


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