Lung cancer survivor credits positive attitude, fitness for surv - WXOW News 19 La Crosse, WI – News, Weather and Sports |

Lung cancer survivor credits positive attitude, fitness for survival

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La Crosse, WI (WXOW) -

Wisconsin Bike Week continues, as people across the state trade in their vehicles for a cleaner form of transportation. Some people choose biking as a hobby while others make it their primary way to get around.

Eric Petersen-Brant says cycling helped him survive one of the most trying times of his life.

There is often a negative stigma around lung cancer, as many people associate the disease with smoking. Peterson-Brant is urging people to think twice before jumping to those conclusions.

Petersen-Brant is the picture of fitness. A former yoga instructor, he was a commuter bicyclist for 20 years.

"I am an avid cyclist, and my real discovery was going on a couple of climbs that I was really used to," he said. "I experienced what seemed to be an asthma attack, but I've never had asthma."

It was last July when both he and his wife contracted what they thought was an upper respiratory infection.

"We both did rounds of antibiotics," said Petersen-Brant. "She got better. I didn't."

A round of testing at Gundersen Health System in La Crosse revealed that Petersen-Brant had a non-small cell lung cancer tumor in the middle of his chest.

"Three quarters of all patients who develop lung cancer develop it at a stage where it is advanced and many times not curable," said Dr. Kurt Oettel, an oncologist at Gundersen Health System.

However, Petersen-Brant was determined to fight.

"They didn't feel very hopeful in the beginning, and then they met me and gave me a strength test. They were like, 'Oh, you're a spunky little guy.' And, I was like, 'Oh yeah. You wait and see. We're going to beat this,'" he said.

That is exactly what he is doing. He says it is important to never underestimate the power of positive thinking.

"In the radiation room, I would visualize small unicorns coming into the room and coming into my throat and down and using their bottoms to knock the radiation away from the good cells, healthy cells and directing it to the cancer cells," said Petersen-Brant.

A dedicated staff of doctors and nurses walked him through six weeks of radiation followed by a new immunotherapy treatment.

"Immunotherapy is a treatment we've started to use in a number of different cancers but now in lung cancer," Oettel said. "His disease seems to be very responsive to this."

The key to his survival is not found in a hospital room. It is found on his bike-a hobby both Petersen-Brant and Oettel enjoy.

"I would get on my trainer in my basement and crawl down there, get my feet clipped in, and get on my bike even if it was just 10 minutes," Petersen-Brant said.

"We know that patients who have cancer, who've had treatment, who engage in regular physical activity after their treatment have less chance of their cancer coming back," said Oettel.

One year later, his tumor is a fraction of the size and shrinking every day.

"I try to treat everyone better," said Petersen-Brant. "I try to remember that life is fragile, so I try to keep that in the forefront of my mind."

He says that his journey with lung cancer did not happen alone. He received support from a community of family and friends all over the world, making him meals, giving him money for medical costs, and driving him to his regular appointments from his home in Decorah.

Petersen-Brant continues to visit Gundersen Health System every two weeks for treatment. He hangs on to the hope that one day he will be completely cancer-free.

Another critical component to surviving lung cancer is early detection. Oettel recommends patients talk to their primary doctor about possible risk factors and early screening options.

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