When Johnny Gomez went into the hospital in December 2012 with what appeared to be the flu or pneumonia, he did not expect to leave with a diagnosis of stage IV small-cell lung cancer. The disease was so advanced that he was given just weeks to live. The hospital staff recommended hospice.
“It was a shock to me,” says Johnny. “The doctor told us, ‘There’s nothing to be done. We give you six to eight weeks.’”
“It was devastating,” says sister-in-law Chrisni, one of Johnny’s caregivers. “They said chemo would take his life. They gave us no hope.”
Johnny was discharged and went home, where he began failing fast. But though Johnny was feeling hopeless, his family wasn’t ready to give up.
“We were sitting around waiting for the inevitable to happen, and I wasn’t okay with that,” says Chrisni. “I thought, This can’t be it. There has to be another answer.”
Chrisni contacted Huntsman Cancer Institute (HCI) and ended up bringing Johnny into the cancer hospital the very next day. Wallace Akerley, MD, medical oncologist in HCI’s Lung Cancer Program, immediately placed Johnny on chemotherapy.
“Dr. Akerley had a different outlook on it,” says Chrisni. He told the family that the disease was treatable.
“We felt the risk-to-reward ratio favored treatment,” says Akerley. “Small-cell lung cancer is different than other types of lung cancer and can have dramatic responses to chemotherapy.”
The response certainly has been dramatic. Though his cancer is still considered stage IV, it is in remission. In eight months, Johnny has gone from being near comatose and unable to walk to working out at the gym several days a week. His bones have gone from being extremely brittle to being strong again—so strong, in fact, that Johnny can lift more weight now than he could before the cancer.
“I’m so blessed. I’m feeling good,” says Johnny. He is spending more time with his loved ones and has gotten closer to his kids. The whole family considers it a miracle and a blessing that Johnny is still alive.
“Without being here at HCI, without the right people in our path, we wouldn’t be sitting here with Johnny today,” says Chrisni. “His kids wouldn’t get to hug him. His grandkids wouldn’t get to know him and get to put their arms around him.”
“I thank God that I still have my brother,” says Bird, Johnny’s brother. “You don’t know what you have until it’s almost taken away.”
Johnny considers the past several months a positive journey. “It has been an experience of realizing how much my life means to me. I’m grateful every morning when I wake up that I get to see another day.”