WHITE BEAR LAKE, Minn. (KMSP) - Gary Brausen was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2011. He never smoked a day in his life, and secondhand smoke wasn’t a factor in his case either.
“It's not just smokers anymore,” Brausen said. “Secondhand smoke was a non-factor. We had no radon.”
On March 15, 2011, the lifelong athlete who watches his diet was diagnosed with cancer in his left lung. The father of two boys was in denial.
“I collapsed to the floor in shock and disbelief. Three separate oncologists agreed that my case was terminal,” Brausen said. “All I wanted to hear was a story of survival and there just wasn't any.”
With only a 16 percent survival rate, lung cancer kills more people than breast, colon and pancreatic cancers. And more and more new patients have stories similar to Brausen’s.
“There's a huge proportion of lung cancer that has nothing to do with smoking,” said Dr. Joseph Leach of the Virginia Piper Cancer Institute. “I would say probably even a quarter of lung cancer now has nothing to do with smoking.”
Oncologists treated Brausen’s case as aggressively as they could. On April 7 that year, doctors removed the affected lung, and Brausen underwent intensive chemotherapy and radiation.
Four years later and down to one lung, Brausen is cancer free. But even at 60 to 70 percent of his original lung capacity, he’s riding his bike from White Bear Lake to Duluth to raise money for the Hope Foundation.
“To be that close to death and have it not happen -- it's a cool experience,” he said.
Even cooler, oncologists asked Brausen to speak at the annual lung cancer symposium to learn from him.
“I'd been through so much with those people and I could give something back to them,” Brausen said. “To be able to payback a little bit meant the world to me.”