Lung cancer is the is the number one cause of cancer deaths in this country for both men & women.
By far, the best thing you can do to dramatically reduce your risks of developing lung cancer, is to avoid inhaling tobacco smoke. We met a man from Colman, SD who wishes he would have stuck to his guns when he quit smoking for a year 10 years ago.
Leo Heinricy says, "I had a pain in my chest and I didn't know if I had the flu or what. I had it 2 or 3 days so I went in to my doctor in Dell Rapids to have it checked out. They did an X-Ray and found the spot. They sent me to Avera McKennan after that."
And that's how Colman's Leo Heinricy rang in 2008. Not the celebration he had hoped for. He was diagnosed with lung cancer in January.
Leo says, "It scares the living hell out of you. Excuse the language, but it does."
Leo spent a good chunk of the year in Sioux Falls at the Avera Cancer Institute. The type of lung cancer he had was inoperable, but treatable. He went through an aggressive 8 months of chemo and radiation.
Leo says, "The type of cancer I got has a tendency to go to the brain."
Dr. Mark Huber is an oncologist at Avera McKennan. He treated Leo. He says, "He's doing well. He's doing better than the averages. To his credit, it was caught early before it spread far and wide. He's undergone a full treatment, a tough treatment, and because he was so healthy before the cancer he seemed to pull through it well and is doing well a year later."
There's a reason cigarettes are often referred to as cancer sticks. Dr. Huber says 9 out of 10 people who get lung cancer are currently smokers or used to be smokers and yes that includes Leo.
Leo says, "Not to begrudge anyone, but I kind of asked for everything I got."
For 50 years, Leo lit up. When his specialist at Avera asked him if he was a smoker Leo told him he used to be. The doctor said when did you quit? Leo said right now. He's learned a lot of lessons through this ordeal.
Leo says, "If you get a pain have it checked out cause you never know what it is. Cancer ain't the end of the world. One thing I did learn coming to the Avera Cancer Institute all the time and going up to chemo, there's always someone worse off than you."
Lung cancer doesn't have to be a death sentence if caught early. Don't smoke and listen to your body. The first nearly killed Leo. The second saved his life.
An update on Leo since we first aired this story in January of 2009. He is now approaching the two-year mark (January 2010) since being diagnosed with lung cancer. He said he feels great (much better than last year at this time), remains cancer-free and just completed an MRI and CT Scan one week ago. He said he won't have another appointment for four to five months, but he's so grateful and so enjoys the people at the Avera Cancer Institute that he said he'd probably be back before then just for a visit!