Tondra and Craig Blevins

PET scan following accident saves man’s life

Amy Charles

Craig Blevins, 50, of Dorton, wrecked his four wheeler back in September of 2015. That accident actually saved his life.


For days after the wreck he had pain in the right lower side of the stomach, for what Craig suspected was just a pulled muscle. He went to see Jamie Newsome, Nurse Practitioner at the PMC Shelby Valley Clinic and was ordered a CT scan. While waiting for his test date, the pain worsened, so he visited the emergency room at Pikeville Medical Center (PMC).


A CT was performed in the ER, which confirmed his suspicion of a pulled muscle. Even though the CT scan was not of his chest, the image showed enough of his lung to reveal a mass in the lower lobe of his left lung.


Craig made an appointment with a pulmonologist. “He looked at the images of Craig’s lungs and ordered a bronchoscopy,” said Tondra Blevins, Craig’s wife of 30 years. “The test results came back as stage four lung cancer.”


A PET scan would later reveal the cancer had not spread to any other organs, but the bone scan told a different story. Despite having advanced cancer in his lungs and throughout his skeletal system, Craig was experiencing no symptoms.


“I didn’t feel sick,” Craig explained. “I had no cough, weight loss or tiredness.”


Craig began chemotherapy and radiation treatment for his cancer. Dr. Brad Collett and Dr. Ruth Lavigne, radiation oncologists at PMC oversaw his care.


“His particular cancer has a specific gene mutation, and that is a fortunate finding in that it tends to be more slow growing and will respond to biologic therapy,” explained Dr. Collett.


The gene mutation makes Craig’s cancer more treatable. He was put on a medication that specifically targets just the mutated gene.


“Because of the gene mutation I have,” said Craig, “I was able to switch to taking a pill after just two chemotherapy treatments.”


Craig continued with radiation treatment to treat the cancer in his bones, usually in 10-treatment rounds.


On February 7 of this year, while on his way to a routine radiation treatment for his hips, Craig experienced dizziness followed by a headache.


“I felt like I had just stood up out of the car too fast,” said Craig. “When I explained how I was feeling to Dr. Lavigne, she sent me for an MRI of my brain as soon as my radiation treatment was finished.”


“The radiation oncology department is phenomenal!” said Tondra. “They went over him from head to toe and they would not let him leave until we had answers.”


After the MRI, the technologist performing the test sent Craig and Tondra back to Dr. Lavigne to get the results. They took this as a bad sign. The test confirmed Dr. Lavigne’s suspicions and Craig needed brain surgery to remove two rather large lesions from his brain. One was golf ball-sized and one was slightly smaller.


“He presented with symptomatic brain metastases,” said Dr. Collett, “Because of the size, we felt he would benefit from having the lesions removed.”


Before Craig even made it home that day, he was called back to PMC to be admitted for surgery, to be performed by PMC neurosurgeon, Dr. Duane Densler.


“Because the lesions were in two widely separate areas of the brain,” explained Dr. Densler, “I had to perform separate operations to remove them.” 


In fact, in a span of five days, February 9-13, Craig underwent two operations to his brain. The material removed was tested and proved to be cancerous. The good news was that it was not a new primary tumor. The lesions were the same cancer from the lung metastasized in the brain.


Forty-eight hours after surgery, Craig was released from the hospital.


“Craig had an excellent recovery from the surgeries to remove the brain lesions and had significant improvement in his symptoms,” said Dr. Collett.


“He had a fast recovery,” said Dr. Densler, “aided by the support of his family.”


The part of Craig’s brain affected by the surgeries controls movement. Thankfully, he has no lasting effects from the surgery.


“I feel great, other than having low energy and being a little tired,” said Craig. He has no memory loss, confusion or headaches.


Nearly a month after the surgeries, Craig developed two more, smaller brain lesions. It was decided by his team of physicians to radiate the entire brain instead of treating just the lesions.


“He completed a course of whole brain radiation, which he tolerated very well,” said Dr. Collett. “He will continue on his systemic treatment and we will be re-imaging him in a few weeks to monitor his progress.”


“There is no need to go anywhere else to get your cancer treatment,” said Tondra. “He had two major brain surgeries in five days here.”


“I could not get better treatment anywhere in the world,” said Craig. “I couldn’t have had nicer or more caring staff. Everybody has been absolutely wonderful!”


“He has overcome so much. Craig has already started his garden, planting his peas and onions,” said Tondra. “He’s our Superman.”


Craig’s daughter is putting a Relay for life team together called the Superman Squad. They also have plans to run in PMC’s Colors of Courage 5K in August.


He still has bone cancer, but it’s getting better. Craig will continue with a PET scan every three months. Medication he takes to fight the cancer has side effects. So Craig goes for lab work every two weeks to monitor his liver.


For more information about the Leonard Lawson Cancer Center or to make an appointment, call 606-218-2212.