Johnny Lopez considers himself to be a walking miracle.
In 2006, he went in for a routine check-up and had blood work done. He had been feeling fine and didn’t expect anything out of the ordinary from this appointment, so he was shocked to learn that he had an elevated prostate-specific antigen (PSA) level of 19. Biopsies were ordered, a Gleason score
of seven was determined and Lopez’s life as he knew it changed forever.
“They told me I had prostate cancer
. I've never been so scared when I heard the news,” Lopez recalled.
“I panicked and was scared, scared to the bone. You know, you hear these stories about these sorts of things happening to others, and not to you. But I've got to tell you, when it's at your doorstep, it's a different place.”
When the severity of Lopez’s diagnosis began to sink in, he started learning as much as he could about prostate cancer and how to beat it. But that research offered up some grim statistics.
“Everything that I read said that someone with the Gleason score of seven was not supposed to survive past five years,” Lopez recounts.
To treat his cancer, Lopez opted to have his prostate removed. After a successful surgery, his doctor at the time recommended chemotherapy as his next step, but during a tour of the chemo facility, Lopez had a very bad feeling.
Johnny Lopez and Tanya Dorff, M.D.
“I had a tour of the chemotherapy room and I just got chills up and down my spine and I decided that was not for me. I took a different route that most people probably wouldn't take. I wanted something different. And I intuitively and instinctively felt there was something else better for me out there.
Then I found Dr. Dorff and everything changed,” Lopez said.
Lopez’s research into the latest prostate cancer treatments, clinical trials, experimental therapies — anything to avoid chemotherapy, and a recommendation from a friend also battling prostate cancer, lead him to Tanya Dorff, M.D.
, and City of Hope.
Finding a true partner
In Dorff, Lopez found a true partner in his cancer treatment.
She is quite a doctor, but not only is she is a great doctor, she's also a great scientist. You know, she's really committed and has a lot of passion for what she does. She’s so dedicated to her patients, it's unbelievable. She's able to help not only myself, but others. I'm just lucky, and I'm grateful to have her on my side,” Lopez said.
Since 2008, Lopez and Dorf have worked as a team to navigate his cancer journey, mainly using hormone therapy to control any future prostate cancer growth.
“There's always a new treatment that they are working on and studying. I've heard that from a lot of prostate cancer patients that, you know, they've been able to kind of try various modes of treatment that didn't involve radiation, that didn't involve chemo, and it's truly incredible,” Lopez said.
“I’ve tried a variety of different things. I've been on Lupron for a long time, but I've also had Casodex and Provenge several years ago. I did take a little bit of radiation. Dr. Dorff used some radiation. She was curious and I was, too. We thought that maybe we could capture some of the cancer cells on the neck and the head of where the prostate used to lay. But currently, I'm taking Zytiga. I'm taking that along with Lupron and Prednisone, and it seems to be working. And I haven't had chemotherapy as of yet, to this day.”
As far as side effects go, Lopez has been lucky. He hasn’t had any adverse reactions to his medications. For him, the hardest part of this journey has been its emotional toll.
“The hardest part for me was the emotional and psychological
part of it. I just couldn't understand why. You ask yourself these questions. Why me? And, you know, I'd been doing all the right things all my life, and this happens. I've got to tell you, my first year I would go to work, and on the way to work I'd start crying like a baby. I’m not gonna lie to you. Boy, it was so emotional,” Lopez admits.
Lopez is close to his family, but none of them live locally, and it was hard to be far away from them during such a scary and uncertain time.
Johnny Lopez and his wife, Jacqueline
“There are six of us kids. There's two boys and four girls, and my mom and dad are still alive. They're retired in Arizona. We grew up together and were real close, but now we're spread apart. We remain close, but going through this, they did their best to stay in touch with me. But sometimes it's difficult,” Lopez said.
Luckily, his wife, Jacqueline, has been by his side the whole time.
“My wife was there from the beginning. She's still with me and she's been the pillar. She's been supportive,” Lopez stated.
The support of his wife, his family from afar and Dorff have kept Lopez in an optimistic frame of mind.
“This might sound weird, but my situation it kind of turned out to be a blessing. I feel so blessed now. I am so grateful now. It changed my life in a positive way, and I don't mind it,” Lopez explained.
“My attitude is very positive nowadays. It's very strong. And I'm working full-time. I still do the things I like to do. I play tennis. I go fishing. I also play guitar. I'm a jazz musician. You have to be positive. You have to be strong.”
Now, 12 years later, when the research said he’d only be around for five, Lopez isn’t slowing down. He’s still researching, still learning and still open to the numerous treatment possibilities that exist.
“I'm 63, almost 64, and I'm looking forward to a few more years. And not only that, they're working on new stuff that I've got my eyes on, by the way. There's some new stuff out there they're working on that's on my radar.”
New stuff that could potentially extend Lopez’s already miraculous life.
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