On his 75th birthday, Ronny Wisenor had a feeling he should make an appointment with Dr. Jeffery Combetta and have a lung x-ray.
The longtime ex-smoker’s feeling saved his life.
Wisenor had a position emission tomography (PET) scan years before. The scan detected no cancer but he did have calcified deposits of asbestos in his lungs.
PET scan is an imaging test that helps reveal how your tissues and organs are functioning. A PET scan uses a radioactive drug (tracer) to show this activity. This scan can sometimes detect disease before it shows up on other imaging tests.
“Just had a feeling that I needed to have a lung x-ray to see where the asbestos was at,” Wisenor said.
While at Combetta’s office, he noticed a poster advertising for smokers or ex-smokers to get a low-dose CT scan. The next day on February 4 Wisenor had the scan done.
The following day, Wisenor received a phone call telling him to come to Combetta’s office. That day the doctor told him news that would change his life.
He had cancer.
“I had a 3/4 by 3/4 tumor in my upper lobe of my right lung and it had traveled into my limp nodes and neck,” Wisenor said, pointing to the tumor’s position. “It scared me really bad. But, I told him I am not going to let it kill me. I already had that attitude.”
Wisenor went the same day for a biopsy which was unsuccessful. After receiving a second biopsy, he was given some favorable news.
His cancer was just in Stage III.
“Doctors could not believe how early the cancer was spotted,” Wisenor said. “Normally, everybody that comes to see them is in stage IV, and it is too late. Early testing saved my life and the aggressiveness they took save my life also.”
The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends individuals 50 to 80 years old who have a 20 pack-year smoking history and currently smoke or have quit with the past 15 years to have a low-dose CT scan every year.
During a low-dose CT scan, a person lies on a table and a x-ray machine uses a low dose of radiation to make detailed images of their lungs. The scan only takes a few minutes and is not painful.
The National Lung Screening Trial (NLST) randomized 53,454 high-risk individuals aged 55 to 74 years to three annual screenings with low-dose CT scan or standard chest x-rays and followed them on average for 6.5 years.
The study showed that people were 16 to 20 percent less likely to die from lung cancer when screened with low-dose CT scans, as compared with standard screening chest x-rays. The mortality reduction is equivalent to three lung cancer deaths prevented per 1,000 people screened with three annual low-dose CT scans over 6.5 years.
“Anybody that has smoked or smokes, they need to take the low-dose CT scan,” Wisenor said. “It will save your life.”
Not only was Wisenor a smoker, but he worked many years in electrical construction and owned a Monroe auto repair and body shop where he came in contact with asbestos.
“That was part of where the asbestos came from, doing clutch and brake jobs,” he said.
For 30 days, Wisenor took radiation and for nine weeks he had chemotherapy treatments. During this time, he spent five days in St. Francis Medical Center.
“My white blood count crashed and I almost died,” Wisenor said.
The end of treatment is near for Wisenor. He has beaten cancer and gets to ring the bell on July 29.
“This is a horrible, horrible disease,” Wisenor said. “People need to understand what people who have cancer go through. The trauma it puts on you. The stuff they give you that cures but it’s poison. It knocks you down till you are nothing. You stay curled up in a ball in bed half the time you are going through this.”
Wisenor was extremely complimentary of Combetta, everyone at Franklin Medical Center, Dr. Scott Barron of St. Francis Medical Center and Dr. Ross Bland of Northeast Louisiana Cancer Institute.
“I can’t say enough about Dr. Combetta who immediately picked up that telephone, and we did everything in an expedited way to try to get past all this,” Wisenor said. “They all have been really good to me.”
Wisenor said his wife, Linda, was his “rock” through the entire trial.
“Anybody that goes through this better have a good partner,” he said. “My wife has been my rock through this whole deal. She made every move I made. Every time I went to radiation and chemo, her and my little dog (Brisco) was there with me.”
Now Wisenor goes every three to six months for a CT scan to make sure the cancer does not come back. Between scans he lives a life that is sweeter now due to surviving cancer.
“I was into old hot rods and built old cars,” Wisenor, who volunteered at the Catfish Festival car show, said.
Wisenor just bought a 1933 Ford Coup in New Mexico and learned how to FaceTime. A friend from Columbia picked the car up in New Mexico.
“It was first time I ever FaceTimed,” Wisenor said, laughing. “He was FaceTiming me walking around the car and showing me everything about it. I said pay the man and come home. He put it on a trailer and brought it home.”
His friend brought it to a man that appreciates life and listens to his feelings.