When Dan was diagnosed with lung cancer, he decided he wasn’t going to give up. We didn’t either.
After experiencing shortness of breath at work, Dan’s wife brought him to the emergency room. They feared he may be experiencing a heart attack—and were unprepared to learn that he had lung cancer. Dan turned to St. Vincent Healthcare Cancer Centers of Montana and Dr. Marty Lucas. Seeing Dan’s determination, Dr. Lucas fought to have him included in a research trial for a new drug designed to target and shrink his tumor. The treatment worked. Once given six months to live, he now has a renewed energy and a lifetime of morning walks to look forward to.
“I tell people ‘never give up hope. Treatments are improving all the time.
This was like a miracle for me.” - Dan Vogt, Immunotherapy Patient
Dan Vogt, 67, from Billings, Montana, wasn’t alarmed when he experienced chest pain on the job. As a heavy equipment operator and mechanic, he suspected he’d pulled a muscle. However, as the pain persisted, his wife, Joy, convinced him to go to the emergency room. What they discovered there stunned them.
It turned out Vogt had a large mass on his lung. He was advised to see his primary care physician who referred him to St. Vincent Healthcare Frontier Cancer Center, where he saw Dr. Martin Lucas, an oncologist. Nothing could have prepared Vogt for the results of further testing. He was told he had stage 4 lung cancer with only six months to live.
“My doctor told me I needed to do something real quick,” Vogt said. “I didn’t want to have chemo or radiation because of the side effects. I just wanted to enjoy the time I had left. But when my doctor told me she’d read about a new experimental drug without those side effects, I figured I had nothing to lose.”
The drug Dr. Lucas had in mind was called Avelumab, an immunotherapy drug. Immunotherapy drugs tend to have fewer side effects than traditional cancer therapies. But before Vogt could start treatment, he needed to undergo PDL1 testing to determine if his cancer was the type that would benefit from immunotherapy. PDL1 testing measures the amount of PDL1, a protein, on cancer cells. Elevated PDL1 levels can “trick” the immune system into “thinking” cancer cells are normal cells. Avelumab helps the immune system recognize the cancer cells so it can remove them.
Vogt underwent a blood test and was told his biomarkers fit the drug 100 percent, qualifying him for the clinical trial. He began bimonthly infusions of Avelumab and received CAT scans every 12 weeks to monitor the tumor. In the first six months, Vogt’s tumor shrank by almost 67 percent.
“I have no side effects,” Vogt says. “No hair loss, no nausea, nothing. I tell people ‘never give up hope.’ Treatments are improving all the time. This was like a miracle for me.”
Now three years later, at cycle 80 of his Avelumab treatment, Vogt is virtually disease free. Once given just six months to live, Vogt is enjoying an active life filled with all of his favorite activities, including golf, walks with his dog and quality time with his family and friends.
Kelli, a licensed practical nurse, never expected to receive a cancer diagnosis. When she did, she turned to St. Vincent Healthcare Frontier Cancer Center. The oncology team’s approach has allowed her to continue her nursing work. By participating in national drug trials to relieve symptoms associated with head and neck cancer, Kelli has been able to focus on the activities and people she loves most.