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Brian B.

When Brian Bowman wakes up each morning and starts his day, the sky looks bluer, the flowers smell sweeter and his love for life and his family is so much more precious. For the last two years, Brian has been battling both an aggressive fungus and cancer that attacked his lungs. Shortly after the initial diagnosis, Bowman was told to go home and get his affairs in order. It was a grim time for he and his family. Bowman’s future is looking brighter now, but it wasn’t until he was referred to the lung cancer team at Nebraska Medicine that his prognosis started to change.

Bowman, 54, grew up on a 1,000-acre farm in Red Oak, Iowa. After college, he moved to Omaha and then to Kansas City where he began to win awards for his natural knack for remodeling. He moved back to Red Oak about four years ago after his grandfather passed away to help manage the family farm and care for his 96-year-old grandmother. That’s when Bowman started feeling ill. For more than three years, he suffered chronic coughing and fatigue. His family doctor told him it was a respiratory infection. He treated him multitude times with antibiotics and steroids and sent him home.

The symptoms would subside for bit, but would always return. He finally insisted something more serious was amiss. A chest X-ray and CT scan revealed a 5-inch mass on his lung that his doctor believed to be cancer. It was so advanced, there was not much that could be done, he told Bowman. It was December of 2017. Bowman, his wife and three children spent what they thought would be their last Christmas together. His doctor later suggested he see a specialist at another Omaha hospital.

In January, Bowman underwent surgery to biopsy his lung. All of the biopsies came back as a fungus caused by breathing in dust from moldy hay and other crops. Bowman began treatment directed at treating the fungus. After nearly three months, his condition had grown worse. His Omaha doctor referred him to Rudy Lackner, MD, Nebraska Medicine thoracic and cardiac surgeon. In a five-hour surgery, Dr. Lackner discovered that the fungus was wrapped around his artery and a large tumor mass in his lungs. Alisa Marr, MD, Nebraska Medicine hematologist and oncologist, Alison Freifeld, MD, Nebraska Medicine infectious disease specialist and Weinning Zhen, MD, radiation oncologist, became his new care team.

Bowman began an aggressive regimen of radiation therapy at the Nebraska Medicine Shenandoah clinic, which was followed by 10 weeks of chemotherapy infusions at Bellevue Medical Center. “Brain came to us quite ill,” says Dr. Marr. “The fungal infection alone can be deadly and was getting worse. His case really demonstrates the importance of having a multitude of specialists working together to provide the best results. After we began treating both the fungus and the underlying cancer, his outcome began to change.”

“I called them my dream team,” says Bowman, “because they are all among the best in their fields. They were all fantastic. I have felt so blessed to be at such a world-class medical center like Nebraska Medicine.” Last summer, Bowman was started on a new immunotherapy drug called valumat, a personalized treatment that programs a patient’s own immune cells to kill cancer.

Bowman completed the infusion therapy at Bellevue Medical Center this summer and is now in remission. “It was so convenient and easy to get to,” says Bowman. “I know everyone there from the security guards to the nurses on a first name basis. They’re like family.” Bowman is hopeful about his future. “Dr. Marr says if I can go another year, this will greatly increase my chances of reaching long-term remission,” says Bowman. “I figure this buys me time to make it to the next round of miracle drugs so I can continue to fight this cancer.”

“Brian’s positive attitude and fighter mentality has definitely helped him get through this,” says Dr. Marr. “He gets as much credit as the team.” When Bowman reaches that one-year mark, he says his dream is to buy a large catamaran and circumnavigate the world with his wife. My philosophy is, when you get lemons, you make lemonade,” says Bowman. “I’m just happy to be here and the journey has been made so much easier with all of the friends I’ve made at Nebraska Medicine. The level of care, time and commitment I received from everyone there has just been outstanding.”

First Published: January 11, 2021

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