Heart screening leads to early cancer detection in Naperville man

April 21, 2016 | by Edward-Elmhurst Health

It all began with a $75 heart scan. Mark Zdenovec, 42, a mortgage banker and Naperville resident, had no idea when he went to have his heart tested that the path of his life would change.

"I was trying to be proactive," Zdenovec says. “For $75, I thought it would be worth it.”

Although Zdenovec had a heart scan three years prior that had checked out fine, he thought he better go back again. He had had high cholesterol for years and stopped taking medication for it because of bothersome side effects.

Zdenovec took advantage of the heart scan special at Edward Hospital. As part of the screening, he opted for some additional tests, including a peripheral vascular scan.

During the screening, everything seemed to go fine. The whole process was quick and painless, and only took about an hour and a half. He was told the radiologist was going to review it to verify everything looked okay and they would go from there.

Shortly after, Zdenovec received a call from his doctor, Gregory Trevino, M.D., an internist with DuPage Medical Group, with news he did — and did not — want to hear. His heart checked out great, but the radiologist saw something in the scan regarding his thyroid. Dr. Trevino recommended Zdenovec see an endocrinologist.

A visit to Stephen Skjei, M.D., an endocrinologist with Academic Endocrinology, followed by a biopsy, confirmed papillary cancer in the left side of his thyroid.

Upon hearing the news, Zdenovec says, "I was nervous and had a whole range of emotions." Although Zdenovec had a family history of cancer, he had no symptoms. In fact, all of his thyroid tests had been normal. If it wasn’t for the heart scan, he would have never known about the cancer.

“Mark did the right thing by being proactive and coming to Edward Hospital to have his heart checked. Luckily, timing was on his side and we were able to discover his cancer early,” says Dr. Trevino.

Zdenovec underwent surgery two weeks later to remove the cancer. Joseph Donzelli, M.D., an otolaryngologist, also with DuPage Medical Group, performed the procedure at Edward Hospital.

“Dr. Donzelli and his staff were phenomenal. Their bedside manner was awesome. I couldn’t have asked for more,” says Zdenovec.

Zdenovec says he had just lost his grandfather to cancer and was thinking the worst case scenario, but he felt supported by the team at Edward.

“For a while I couldn’t sleep well. When you find out have cancer, your mind is going in a million different places. A few times, I called Dr. Donzelli’s office and talked to his nurse and PA. They were awesome,” he says.

“Dr. Skjei is a very good doctor too. I’ve since recommended him to a couple of people,” he says.

After the surgery, Zdenovec received news that the cancer had spread to more lymph nodes, and he went on to complete radiation treatment.

At his six month exam, Zdenovec received the news he had been waiting to hear— he had no signs of disease.

Today, Zdenovec says he’s feeling good. "I feel okay. Honestly I can’t complain," he says.

“If I didn’t have a heart scan, the cancer would have continued to spread without me knowing it. For $75, the heart scan changed my whole life ... hopefully for the better,” Zdenovec says.

He adds, “I hope sharing my story creates more awareness. I think everyone should get this exam every two years. For me, it was life-changing.”

Patient update: Mark has finished treatment. His doctors are confident the cancer was found early and are hopeful he will have a full recovery.   

Are you at risk for heart & vascular disease? Take the HeartAware Risk Assessment to find out.

Learn more about cancer services at Edward-Elmhurst Health.

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