Carl Heineck never suspected the cough he developed four years ago was a lung cancer symptom.
He had trouble climbing short inclines, and exercises he once considered easy were leaving him out of breath. His cough grew worse, and he became ill with a bug that he suspected was the flu.
His local doctor diagnosed him with a respiratory infection. But after a month, the symptoms were still there. Carl knew something was wrong, so he went to another doctor.
“He listened to my lungs, and he didn’t like what he heard. He immediately sent me for an MRI of my chest,” Carl says.
After the MRI, Carl had a PET scan. This was more than a respiratory infection. Carl had lung cancer.
Lung cancer treatment at MD Anderson
After his lung cancer diagnosis, Carl decided to seek treatment at MD Anderson.
“I had worked as an art director in advertising with medical and pharmaceutical clients, and I knew MD Anderson’s reputation,” Carl says.
So, he called and scheduled an appointment for later that week.
While at MD Anderson, Carl met his oncologist Don Gibbons, M.D., Ph.D., assistant professor of Thoracic/Head and Neck Medical Oncology. Gibbons explained his lung cancer treatment plan. Often lung cancer is removed surgically if possible. But Carl had chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, which made the surgery risky. Gibbons determined that Carl would instead undergo chemotherapy in Orlando, where he lives.
Carl experienced few side effects from the chemotherapy.
“I was even able to keep what was left of my hair before treatments,” he says.
After four infusions, Carl’s scans showed that his cancer was gone. He had an additional four chemotherapy infusions to keep the cancer from coming back.
Life after lung cancer treatment
With his scans showing no evidence of disease, Carl thought he was done with chemotherapy.
But Dr. Gibbons told him he would have to continue chemotherapy for the rest of his life. Carl asked if there were any other options. After meeting with his team, Gibbons told Carl he was a good candidate for consolidative radiation therapy. This type of radiation therapy is given after initial cancer treatment to make sure the cancer doesn’t come back.
He stayed in Houston for three weeks, with radiation five days each week. The radiation left Carl exhausted, but in the end it was worth it. He’s been cancer-free ever since then and hasn’t had to undergo chemotherapy again.
When Carl looks back on his cancer journey, he’s grateful he made the trip to Houston. That’s why he advices other lung cancer patients to always get a second opinion.
“Remember,” he says, “you’re only one plane ride away from the best treatment there is, MD Anderson.”
Request an appointment to MD Anderson online or by calling 1-877-632-6789.