When Dan Vogt, 68, suffered heart pain and shortness of breath in August 2016, he assumed he was experiencing a heart event.
"I thought I'd had a heart attack," said Vogt. "But then the doctors found a large mass in my lungs and told me I had stage IV lung cancer."
Vogt's prognosis was bleak. Due to the stage and severity of his cancer, he was told he likely had only four months to live. Then, he met with Dr. Marty Lucas, MD at SCL Health - St. Vincent Cancer Centers of Montana and was given a reason to have hope.
"Dr. Lucas decided I was a good candidate for a clinical trial with an immunotherapy drug and fought to get me on it," said Vogt. "I didn't realize people could be so caring. It's unbelievable how much she cares -- how much the entire team here cares. To have someone like Dr. Lucas fight that hard for you is pretty incredible. I owe my life to her."
Soon after his diagnosis with Stage IV Metastatic Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer, Vogt began the clinical trial with the investigational drug, Avelumab.
"When I started the trial, I was on oxygen full-time and I figured it would just prolong my prognosis maybe a year or so. But little by little my tumor started to shrink, I started to feel better and next thing I knew, I didn't even need oxygen anymore," said Vogt. "Now, I go to the gym 5-days a week and golf several times a week."
"He has done very well on this treatment and my hope is that he continues to respond to it for years to come," said Dr. Lucas. "His tumor is now about 1/3 the size of it was originally."
Nearly four years later, he is one of only two patients in the country to still be on this particular drug and on Thursday, June 4, 2020 he received his 100th treatment. Something Dr. Lucas never imagined she'd see back when she began her career in medical oncology.
"When I was in my training, a stage IV lung cancer diagnosis meant we had to walk in and tell the patient they likely had less than six months to live. Now, with immunotherapy treatments, it has become more of a chronic disease that people can live with for years," explained Dr. Lucas. "Immunotherapy teaches a patient’s immune system to recognize the cancer as foreign and work against it. Immunotherapy does not always work, but when it does, it can give patients long survival times."
In Vogt's case, he is grateful for the "extra" time he has been given to spend with his family.
"My wife thinks the results are incredible. Honestly, I think the diagnosis was harder on her. We're both so grateful and have the outlook that I can beat this," said Vogt. "My message for other patients and cancer survivors is to never give up hope.”
"He's just a light," adds Dr. Lucas. "He comes in here every two weeks to receive his 1-hour infusion and he has the best attitude. He gives everyone hope."