Kevin Ullrich - Port Austin, MI
"They work hard at the Infusion Center to make it pleasant. I'm comfortable there and I feel blessed to be able to be there. I'm not just a number and next one in line for treatment."
Innovative, Effective Treatment has Minimal Side Effects
When Kevin Ullrich saw his family doctor last summer about a bad cough, he thought it was connected to a recent bout of pneumonia. "It started in May and it just wouldn't clear up," he said. "I had no energy or appetite. I felt sick and couldn't shake the cough."
As expected, his doctor ordered an X-ray. "When my doctor saw the results, he wanted someone else to see me," Ullrich said. "That's how I ended up in Midland. They did more tests and found cancer in my left lung."
Ullrich was understandably stunned by the diagnosis of non-small cell lung cancer but only temporarily. "When I first got the news, I sat down with my wife and told her I've got too much yet to do," he said. "I was not giving up."
The prospect of undergoing radiation and chemotherapy, and dealing with the accompanying side effects, was chilling. "It was the first thing I thought about so I started to prepare myself," he said.
Ullrich was under the care of Medical Oncologist and Hematologist Thomas Regenbogen, M.D. "They were getting ready to start me out with chemo and radiation but before my first treatment, Dr. Regenbogen suggested we try a new therapy."
Ullrich was treated with a new type of cancer medicine called immunotherapy, which worked with his immune system to interfere with the growth and spread of the cancer cells. This particular medicine is relatively new and is only approved for use on particular types of cancer.
The medicine is administered via an intravenous line. Ullrich had his treatments at the Cancer Center on the campus of MidMichigan Medical Center - Midland. "I started last summer and go every three weeks," he said.
Ullrich lives in Port Austin, about a two-hour drive from Midland, and he said treatment was simple. "First they ask some general questions, pull some blood and run a few tests. I visit with Dr. Regenbogen and talk about any changes. When the labs come back okay, they put in an order for the medicine, put me in a chair and hook me up to an IV. It takes about 30 minutes and when I'm done, I get in the car and drive home. It's that easy."
He said there are minimal side effects. "I'm tired and have an occasional headache but it is certainly a tolerable treatment," he said. "I didn't lose my hair and I've actually gained weight. People who don't know that I'm being treated can't tell that I have lung cancer."
The treatments were effective even early on. After three sessions, imaging showed that the tumor was significantly smaller. "I don't look sick and I don't feel sick," he said.
When Ullrich and his wife took a trip to Florida, he did all the driving. "While we were there I walked for miles on the beach every day," he said. "I'm eating lots of fruits and vegetables to build my immune system. I'm even lifting weights." The 63-year-old, who had retired from his plumbing and heating business, even started working again part-time.
"I've enjoyed working with Dr. Regenbogen," Ullrich said. "He is excellent! I could recommend him and his entire staff to anyone. They are so accommodating they even offered to arrange for me to get treatment in Florida."
Ullrich opted to return to Michigan for his treatment. "I'm comfortable there and I feel blessed to be able to be there. I'm not just a number and next one in line for a treatment," he said. "They work hard at the Cancer Center to make it pleasant and I really appreciate the personal touch. One nurse who comes to see me, Katie, is a real gem. You can tell she is truly concerned about her patients."
Ullrich said that cold, damp weather, and the seriousness of the initial diagnosis, will trigger an occasional blue mood. However, for the most part, he knows he is a lucky man to be able to receive innovative treatment and good results. "I'm keeping a positive attitude – I'm not ready to go yet," he said.
"They have come a long way in cancer therapy," Ullrich said. "Twenty years ago if someone got my diagnosis, they'd be done. Not now. Things have changed and thankfully, the treatment is working for me."
Kevin Ullrich's story is just one example of MidMichigan's advanced technology and expertise for cancer treatment. Those who would like more information may visit www.midmichigan.org/cancer.