Roger’s Story: How an innovative cancer treatment saved his life

Roger’s Story: How an innovative cancer treatment saved his life

Roger Rivera knew something wasn’t right when he started having chest pains almost two years ago. But after a trip to his doctor and a couple tests, he was sent home with no signs of a problem.

Four months later, Roger was back at his doctor’s office with shoulder pain.

“I’m an electrician, so initially, the pain could’ve been explained by the nature of my work,” says Rivera, a 50-year-old father of four. “But when my shoulder started to hurt, too, I just had a feeling something wasn’t right.”

His primary care physician ordered a chest x-ray, but the scan showed nothing.

Five months later, Rivera started coughing up blood. “That’s when my physician ordered a CT scan and saw a mass,” he explains.

His primary care doctor referred him to Dr. Axel Joob, a thoracic surgeon and director of the Center for Thoracic Disease at Advocate Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge, Ill.

“Dr. Joob set up a biopsy of the tumor, and thankfully, he ordered genetic mutation testing, because if he hadn’t, I would have never known I was a candidate for immunotherapy,” Rivera says. “Once he explained I was a good candidate for the new, innovative treatment, I was referred to Dr. Arthur Hooberman.”

Immunotherapy refers to a type of treatment that helps your own immune system fight cancer, according to the National Cancer Institute. Tumors block the immune system from being effective, and immunotherapy unblocks it so that the immune system can operate properly, explains Dr. Hooberman, a hematologist/oncologist at Lutheran General Hospital.

“While not everyone qualifies for immunotherapy, research shows it is more effective than chemotherapy,” says Dr. Hooberman. “Patients see better responses and survival rates when they undergo immunotherapy and have fewer side effects. In Roger’s case, we needed to do radiation on the tumor on his lung immediately in conjunction with the immunotherapy treatment for the tumors on his adrenal glands, which started this past March.”

“Not having to go through chemo treatment and learning about immunotherapy gave me a lot of hope,” says Rivera. “I never even missed a day of work because of my immunotherapy treatments.”

Those treatments consist of sitting with an IV once every three weeks. “Dr. Hooberman and his team sat down with me and explained what side effects I should keep an eye out for and which were cause for concern. But thankfully, aside from a slight fever at the start of my treatment, I’ve been side-effect free.”

While Rivera is still fighting his cancer, one of the tumors on his adrenal glands has already shrunk by two-thirds because of immunotherapy. The other has shrunk by over 50 percent.

“Today, I feel great, and I’m looking forward to living a long life,” says Rivera. “Immunotherapy has really given me hope and allowed me to fight this cancer in a way I didn’t know was possible.”

Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in the U.S., and screening for the disease can have substantial benefits for those at risk, as patients usually don’t have symptoms until the cancer is already at an advanced stage.

Are you at risk? Take our free Lung Health Assessment to find out.

For patients who are identified as high risk, Advocate Lutheran General Hospital offers a Lung Screening Program to help identify lung cancer early.

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About the Author

Jackie Hughes
Jackie Hughes

Jacqueline Hughes is a former manager, media relations at Advocate Aurora Health. Previously, she was the public affairs and marketing manager at Advocate Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge, IL. She earned her BA in psychology at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California. Jackie has 10 plus years experience working in television and media and most recently worked at NBC 5 in Chicago. In her free time, she enjoys swimming, going to the movies and spending time with her family.