Poland man who beat lung cancer wants to help others do the same

Matt Hiznay was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer almost six years ago; He's now working toward getting his PhD

Almost six years ago, the Poland native was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer. Thanks to advances in science, a rigorous clinical trial helped put his cancer into remission. Now, he's dedicated to helping others in the same situation.
Matt working in the lab in November 2012.

POLAND, Ohio (WYTV) – Matt Hiznay’s story is one of strength and giving back.

Almost six years ago, the Poland native was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer. Thanks to advances in science, a rigorous clinical trial helped put his cancer into remission. Now, he’s dedicated to helping others in the same situation.

But the story of Hiznay, now 30 years old, begins with him at age 24.

That’s when Hiznay — who was studying to become a doctor at the University of Toledo — found out he had lung cancer, and he was shocked.

“Just before my second year of med-school was to start, the hammer fell and I was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer,” he said. “I had a persistent dry cough that whole summer of 2011 and never really thought much of it.”

According to statistics from the Lung Cancer Foundation, only 1 percent of stage IV lung cancer patients live for five years.

Hiznay is one of the lucky ones.

“Things got really difficult,” he said. “I had never really felt like a cancer patient, much less one with cancer spread throughout much of my lower chest and neck.”

Through testing of his tumor at the Cleveland Clinic in early September, doctors found that Hiznay was ALK positive, making him eligible for a targeted therapy that had been approved by the FDA only days earlier.

“So I started the targeted therapy,” Hiznay said. “And about two weeks later, I walked out of the intensive care unit on my own — under no oxygen. And two months later [in November 2011], I found out that there was no evidence of disease in my body.”

It wasn’t all smooth sailing from there, though, as Hiznay’s cancer reoccurred in May 2012, leading him to the University of Colorado Cancer Center for treatment.

The targeted therapy worked again, until the cancer came back in April 2014 — just two months before his wedding. But with more treatment — this time in Tennessee — he was cancer-free by July 2015.

Hiznay is now being featured as part of an ongoing public awareness campaign called “GoBoldly“. It highlights the importance of continued investment in research and development of bio-pharmaceutical treatments for patients like him.

“I’ve taken an advocacy approach in my last five-and-a-half years,” Hiznay said. “I want there to be something that you can grasp on and strive towards — something where you want be like that and just get back to living your life.”

But for Hiznay, it’s not just about raising awareness.

He’s currently working toward getting his PhD in molecular medicine at the Cleveland Clinic, studying the genetics of leukemia.

“My hope is that the research I do, someday, can be used to make a targeted therapy for a patient,” Hiznay said. “And I would’ve paid it forward in thanks for everything that happened to me five-and-a-half years ago.”

Hiznay wants it to be known that he is extremely grateful to everyone locally who reached out in support over the last five-plus years — especially his parents Jim and Mandie and his wife Ally. He says without them on his entire journey against lung cancer, he wouldn’t be here today.