Patient StoriesMarch 5 2024

Patient Story - Dr. Reagan Bollig

When Dr. Reagan Bollig, a surgeon with University Trauma and Acute Care Surgeons, learned that he had cancer in his lung, it was eye opening to experience the diagnosis from the perspective of a patient. Rather than performing a surgery to remove cancer, he soon learned that he would be undergoing the surgery himself.


While making his rounds one day last year, Dr. Bollig experienced what he thought to be kidney stones. In some degree of pain, he checked himself into the Emergency Department between patients. Since Primary Care Physicians are notified when their patients go to the ED, Dr. Bollig’s doctor called him the next day and suggested that they do a CT scan. The scan revealed a mass on his lung that was too big to ignore. Dr. Ben Bevill in Pulmonary Critical Care was called in to perform a Robotic Guided Transbronchial biopsy, and the procedure determined that the mass was a carcinoid tumor.


Dr. Bollig and his wife Krissy, formerly a cardiothoracic ICU nurse, moved to Knoxville in 2012. Their son Connor is 9 years old, and Dr. Bollig has two children from a previous marriage, ages 19 and 16. Just three days after receiving his diagnosis, Dr. Bollig, Krissy and Connor, along with another family, embarked on a two-week vacation out West - a trip that had been planned for months. 


“I knew that, a week after I got back, my chest was gonna be cut open,” Dr. Bollig said. However, at that time, he did not know how aggressive the cancer might be. On the trip, he, his family, and their friends hit all the spots they’d planned –Sedona, the Grand Canyon, Zion, Moab, Breckenridge – indulged in road snacks, played games, and listened to music. “But when I’d walk the dog at night alone,” he said, “that’s the time that I would reflect and really appreciate the time we had together as a family. You can’t help but think, ‘I hope I have more.’”


Upon returning home, Dr. Bollig reported to the hospital early for surgery on August 3 with Dr. Shawn Jordan. Dr. Jordan hoped that he could remove the cancer by taking one small segment of the lung, but it was possible that he’d have to take the entire lobe.


Fortunately, Dr. Jordan discovered that the mass was more mobile than he originally thought. As a result, while he had to make a large incision near Dr. Bollig’s armpit, very little of his lung had to be removed. The biopsy yielded the best possible results – the cancer was low-grade, not aggressive, and not growing.


An avid runner and cyclist, Dr. Bollig found the recovery process to be slower than expected. “I couldn’t run for a long time,” he said.“I used to tell patients, ‘You’ll be tired for a couple of weeks,’ but now, I really know what to say to them. I lived it,” he said. 


As both a surgeon and a patient, Dr. Bollig appreciates the fact that UT Medical Center is an academic medical center. “I love knowing that it’s a good balance of experience and innovation,” he said. “I love the teaching aspect. We gotta keep up with everything. That drive of continuous improvement is bred into us.”