GREEN BAY, Wis. (WBAY) - Former smoker and lung cancer survivor Len Hansen quit smoking almost two decades ago. He didn't think he would be affected by lung cancer, but after losing three brothers and a sister to cancer, he's now making it his mission to share his story to encourage smokers to be proactive with their health.
"I thought I had quit sufficiently long enough that it wouldn't affect me," said Hansen.
Hansen, a 65 year old, avid hunter, retired band teacher, and family man, battled a cigarette addiction. His younger sister became his motivation to quit smoking.
"I had a younger sister who was diagnosed with lung cancer, close to 17 years now,” says Hansen. ”At that point, I decided to quit smoking. I had smoked for about 30 years.”
Hansen says before his diagnosis he had a cough, but thought it was just seasonal allergies.
Over the summer, Hansen went for an annual checkup, and after doctors learned about his smoking and family history they urged him to get a CT scan. Doctors then saw he had a grape-sized tumor in his right lung, and it was cancerous.
"Any time you get that diagnosis, you know, ‘you've got cancer,’ it really rocks your world," adds Hansen.
Hansen says he feels lucky to have caught the cancer early, and it hadn't spread to other parts of his body.
"Every day is a little more valuable when you realized that you might not have had it," said Hansen.
"Most of the time when patients start having symptoms, like chest pain, weight loss, coughing up blood, it was already too late," says Dr. Raul Mendoza, an interventional pulmonologist at Aurora BayCare Medical Center.
Dr. Mendoza says lung cancer can grow silently, and in 80 percent of cases in Wisconsin the diagnosis comes after the cancer has already spread.
"I'll tell you what," Hansen says, "I did call some friends who I knew that are former smokers and about my age. I said, hey, if you get a chance, please get screened because it can save your life."
Hansen is now cancer-free after Dr. Mendoza performed surgery on him two months ago. He is now able to go hunting again and cherish time with family.
"He doesn't have to worry about chemotherapy or radiation therapy, just because he did what he was supposed to. He quit smoking, he went for his early detection of lung cancer, and he just followed our advice," says Dr. Mendoza.
"Get it checked, get it tested, because every once in a while somebody can beat this thing," says Hansen.