Roy Zaragoza, right, ran into City of Hope doctor Jonathan Yamzon, M.D., during a bike ride in Long Beach.
Roy Zaragoza was out for a three-hour ride on his road bike, pedaling along the shore in Long Beach, when he spotted another rider wearing a jersey with a City of Hope logo. That second cyclist turned out to be Jonathan Yamzon, M.D.
, a physician from the cancer center. Yamzon is a member of the Centurion Cycling Club, where he rides alongside former City of Hope patients.
“I told him, ‘Hey, that’s a great jersey,’” Zaragoza related. “He asked how I knew the hospital. I told him I was a patient there in 2015 and received a bone marrow transplant.”
The story he went on to tell the doctor was at once harrowing and inspiring. Zaragoza had been diagnosed with multiple myeloma
, a form of blood cancer, and the disease had attacked his spine and neck, causing him to lose strength in his legs and suffer severe vertigo. As a result, he was confined to a wheelchair.
“Because I live near the beach in Huntington Beach, I would go out on the boardwalk and roll myself around in the wheelchair,” he said. “Once I received my transplant at City of Hope, and had been in the hospital for 17 days, I was determined to rehab my body. So after a few months of rolling around, I started using a walker with shoes strapped on the base.”
Zaragoza got to the point where he could move around without much trouble, then pushed himself to rent small bicycles or scooters for rides along the beach. Once he mastered that part of his rehab, he bought an electric bike, then eventually graduated to a road bike.
“I started my way back onto my road bike back in August 2017,” he said. “I continue riding it as much as possible.”
Today he’s cancer free, going on long rides, taking daily walks and hitting the gym on cooler days. He plans to retire at the end of the year and do a lot of traveling with his girlfriend. His recovery has been dramatic — and he credits the team at City of Hope for getting him back up on his feet.
From the cafeteria workers to the nurses, doctors and everyone else on staff, a total team effort was essential to his successful treatment and rehab, Zaragoza said.
“I really had a great experience with all the staff at City of Hope. The care they provided was amazing,” he said. “They got me ready for my transplant by explaining everything that was going to happen before and after. I really think walking the day after the transplant was the start of my recovery. I walked every day that I was in the hospital, about 18 laps around the unit I was in.”
Bringing care close to home
Zaragoza got his transplant at the main campus in Duarte, where he continues with follow-up appointments, making for a two-hour drive from home. But his commute will be dramatically shorter starting in 2021, when City of Hope opens a state-of-the-art medical center in Irvine
, set to become Orange County’s only specialty campus dedicated to treating cancer.
It’s about 30 minutes from Huntington Beach, where the 66-year-old lives with his girlfriend, and practically around the corner from his son’s home in Irvine.
“I believe building a City of Hope hospital and research center in southern Orange County will really benefit me and other patients in the area,” Zaragoza said. “Patients in San Diego will also benefit from the new medical center.”
The $1 billion Irvine cancer campus is considered an extension of the Duarte campus, offering highly specialized cancer care, phase 1-3 clinical trials, precision medicine and treatment for the most complex cancer cases, including bone marrow transplants
and CAR T cell therapy
It will sit on 11 acres, a sprawling campus centered around a main building that’s approximately 190,000 square feet. The Orange County cancer campus turned out to be a far more ambitious undertaking than originally planned, expanded with significant additional funding from City of Hope.
Community practice sites also will be added to the network to meet the area’s growing need for world-class cancer care. The first one is on track to open in Newport Beach later this year.
“I truly believe in City of Hope’s research center, and the Orange County campus would be an ideal place for me,” Zaragoza said. “I have another set of stem cells waiting for me, once I need them, and it will be a great option to have the transplant at the Orange County facility.”
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