Skip to main content

A Clinical Trial Helped This Lung Cancer Patient Breathe Easy

scott vance sits in an exam room

Scott Vance knows the sidewalks in his neighborhood well. One fall day he walked six miles, down blocks and around cul-de-sacs, up and down hills.

"The weather was perfect. It was cool, it was cloudy, and I just kept walking," he says. "But I was just as excited today as I was that first time I walked 100 yards."

Those first 100 yards were early in Scott’s recovery from lung cancer treatment. Scott, who remembers being healthy his whole life, had been feeling short of breath and fatigued for several months but had yet to go to the doctor. Then one of his employees tested positive for COVID-19. He closed up shop to allow every team member to get tested.

"I had to convince the clinic to give me a COVID test because I didn’t have many symptoms," Scott says. "When they did the oxygen test on my finger, they looked surprised. They said my oxygen was low. The nurse said, ‘If you have a second, we’d like you to come inside the clinic.’" Scott agreed, and a chest X-ray followed. "I wasn’t too worried," he recalls.

"Forty-five minutes later, I’m eating breakfast and they called and said, ‘You probably better go to the emergency room.’"

Scott was prescribed oxygen and discharged. He started hauling around an oxygen concentrator, went back to work, and followed up with his doctor. At first, his diagnosis was pneumonia—but soon it became clear there was something more.

scott vance meets with sonam puri md

"I was going downhill and didn’t realize it," Scott says. Another chest scan showed lung cancer. By the time he arrived at Huntsman Cancer Institute (HCI) for his appointment with Sonam Puri, MD, a lung cancer specialist, he needed hospitalization. Scott’s first appointment turned into a two-week stay.

"They tell me it was touch and go," Scott says. "That first night, I had a chemo infusion." Scott’s lung cancer was stage IV. "It had gone from one lung to the other, into my lymph nodes, bones, and brain," he explains.

During his stay at HCI, Dr. Puri learned a specific mutation was causing Scott’s lung cancer. She also had good news: the FDA had approved groundbreaking medication for this mutation—in the form of a pill—just two years earlier. Scott began treatment. He started seeing results in three days. After he was discharged from the hospital, he was set up with Huntsman at Home, an at-home health care service that works exclusively with HCI patients.

"They’re making sure I don’t need to be back in the hospital," Scott says. "The fact that I can take a pill every day and keep my hair and keep my lifestyle and keep everything, to a point? I feel great. I feel better than I did even before the diagnosis."

scott vance meets with sonam puri md

Scott’s follow-up scans explains why. The mass in one lung had decreased by 50%. In the other lung, many opacities had disappeared. The multiple masses in his brain were significantly smaller or had disappeared.

"When I first found out I had stage IV cancer, I thought, ‘Why couldn’t we have found it at stage I?’ But in reality, I’m a few months ahead of the curve. I probably would have suffered in silence and not had it checked out. It was my COVID scare that enabled my diagnosis."

The medicine saving Scott’s life is the result of clinical trials, which test the efficacy and safety of new drugs or treatment. In addition to—and because of—this medicine, Scott has volunteered for a clinical trial Dr. Puri is conducting, which involves the addition of immunotherapy to his treatment (NCT04141644).

"Beating the odds seems more and more common. Or at least keeping up with the odds," Scott says. "Every year, there’s some [new treatment] coming out. Cancer patients now are much more able to be treated than they were three or four years ago. I’m one of the lucky ones who got cancer at a time when something can be done."