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The silent killer: McKinney man overcomes lung cancer
Chris Haga meets with his sons, Shane, left, and Chris, in 2010 after receiving treatment at MD Anderson. Photo courtesy of the Haga family.
When McKinney resident Chris Haga was riding his bike one day in 2010, he was suddenly overcome with a coughing fit.
The coughing continued for days, and after it finally got bad enough, Haga went to visit a doctor. That doctor said Haga had an upper respiratory infection and prescribed antibiotics. Haga’s cough didn’t get better, however – in fact, it got worse.
After another doctor’s visit where he was prescribed antibiotics again – this time for pneumonia – Haga was sent to a specialist where he underwent a CT scan.
“That CT scan showed my lung had partially collapsed because of a tumor,” Haga said. “After they did a biopsy of the tumor it came back as being lung cancer. My doctor then encouraged me to go to MD Anderson because of their renowned treatment.”
The news didn’t get any better for Haga, as subsequent CT scans at MD Anderson showed the cancer had spread to his brain, chest and abdomen.
Haga was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer, and he had reoccurring pneumonia due to his weakened immune system.
Chris’s wife, DeLayne, said seeing her husband in a state of deteriorating health was emotionally devastating.
“Listening to him cough – I’ve never heard anybody cough that hard – and seeing how bad things got so quickly was hard,” she said. “After he had that radiation he lost a lot of weight very quickly, too. He was starting to have some down days; before he was always really positive.”
Things didn’t get easier from there for Chris, who was immediately put on radiation treatment and given medicine. Around the same time, Chris underwent Gamma Knife surgery to get rid of the cancer that had spread to his brain.
After finishing radiation treatment a day before his 51st birthday, a pathology report returned showing cancer still existed.
“When they found out my cancer was still progressing, they switched me to a new form of chemotherapy because I developed a fever,” Chris said. “It wasn’t necessarily depressing, but it was very frustrating not knowing what was happening.”
Finally, Chris caught a break.
In March 2011, he entered into a trial for Crizotinib, an inhibitor drug that had shown promise in previous patients.
“Six weeks after I started the trial for Crizotinib, my scans came back showing a decrease in cancer activity – the first time that had happened since I was diagnosed,” Chris said.
With November being lung cancer awareness month, Chris and other lung cancer survivors hope individuals will be aware that lung cancer isn’t just a disease for smokers.
“We hear from people all over the state about how they’re not smokers, yet they’ve been diagnosed with lung cancer,” DeLayne said. “We even had dinner with a couple in Houston just last week, and the husband [who has lung cancer] is in his late 30s and never smoked. We’ve also met a woman in Houston who’s a never-smoker and has lung cancer as well as a man from Little Elm.”
When Chris was diagnosed, he even exhibited many of the symptoms of lung cancer, including a persistent cough, unexpected weight loss, fatigue (DeLayne says Chris fell asleep whenever he sat down to watch TV) and reoccurring pneumonia.
Despite the symptoms, however, Chris said doctors overlooked the possibility of lung cancer because he wasn’t a smoker.
In fact, every year more than 226,000 people are diagnosed with lung cancer in the United States alone, and about 15 percent of those will have never smoked in their lives. Lung cancer is also the cancer that kills the most people worldwide.
For Chris and his family, the two things that got them through it were faith and the family’s bond with each other and its community.
“God and faith really helped get us through it,” Chris said. “My family – my wife and two sons –kept me upbeat and ready for every day. Our church also helped us out a lot; our friends there were always asking how I was doing and staying in contact with us.”
That faith also kept DeLayne’s conviction that her husband would pull through at the front of her mind.
“I wasn’t really surprised when he we found out he was cancer-free, to be honest,” DeLayne said. “When we knew he was going to start up in the clinical trial, we already heard about one person it had completely gotten rid of cancer for. I told the doctor Chris was going to be the second.”