John Trimble always paid attention to his health by scheduling regular annual physicals. After coughing for a period of months, he was treated for adult onset of asthma. Then the extreme fatigue and shortness of breath set in.
“The medications and treatments had been helping with the coughing,” the Fishers resident said. “When I reported the fatigue and shortness of breath to my pulmonologist, he became concerned that I might be having heart problems, and he suggested that my primary care doctor refer me to a cardiologist.
“At that point, I believed that my asthma was simply worsening because it was very hot, and the heat and humidity seemed to make things worse.”
But a CT scan revealed something much worse — lung cancer and heart failure.
“It was nothing short of a gut punch,” Trimble said. “There was no family history of cancer and I have always been active and reasonably fit, so heart disease made no sense to me whatsoever. I later learned that the cancer had placed stress on my heart and that is what precipitated the A-fib (atrial fibrillation).”
Trimble’s cardiologist, Dr. Ali Iqtidar, IU Health Saxony Hospital, said it’s uncommon to have A-fib and cancer at the initial presentation.
“However, we are increasingly recognizing the interplay between heart failure and cancer.,” Iqtidar said. “Some of the risk factors can predispose a patient to both conditions. In addition, patients who have cancer have increased inflammation and a tendency to blood clotting, which can increase the risk of heart attacks and heart failure. Consequently, certain cancers increase the risk of dying from cardiovascular disease several fold.”
Trimble’s initial treatment was focused on getting his heart slowed and back in rhythm. He spent 13 days in the hospital.
“Unfortunately, because of my cancer, I was not immediately a candidate for an electric cardioversion. I eventually went home on medication and then turned attention to the cancer,” Trimble said. “Dr. Nasser Hanna at the IU Health Simon Cancer Center had genetic testing done of my cancer, and when that was completed, we discovered that there was a new medication from Eli Lilly called Retevmo that was a perfect match for my cancer on it.”
Within 10 days of starting the medicine, he was off supplemental oxygen, and within 60 days, his cancer was 90 percent receding.
“In my initial cancer screenings, they had determined that the cancer had spread to my brain and that I had five small spots that were detectable on MRI, so I underwent a Gamma Knife procedure at IU Health Methodist Hospital in which small doses of radiation were placed by laser on the spots,” he said. “That procedure was successful, and the cancer has not returned to the brain. As of now, I have a small amount of remaining cancer in my lungs, but the Retevmo has kept it isolated, and it is receding.
“In August of 2021, (Iqtidar) put me through a cardioversion procedure that was successful, and my heart has remained in rhythm ever since.”
Iqtidar credits Trimbles determination to heal for his positive response to treatment.
“John demonstrated tremendous courage and grace during all points of his ordeal,” Iqtidar said. “He faced the hardship of the diagnoses stoically, took a practical approach to his treatment no matter how severe the course.”
Trimble’s message to other men is to “be proactive about your health.”
“Don’t let problems sneak up on you simply because you are afraid to receive bad news or afraid that you will be told to change your diet or take medications for cholesterol or blood pressure,” Trimble said. “You only live once, and your body is the only car you will drive for your lifetime. Maintenance is the key to longevity. There is one other thing that is important to me, and that is continuity of care. I believe in having a primary physician who I trust and having that doctor refer me out to specialists and then monitor my overall health.”
“Don’t put off taking care of yourself,” he said. “Especially if that ‘off’ feeling persists without a clear explanation.”