Nine cancer survivors to ride on City of Hope’s Rose Parade float 

Katherine Ramirez


City of Hope’s float entitled “Expanding Hope” will highlight cancer survivors who share personal stories about their journey back to health to help others facing cancer.

LOS ANGELES — In preparation for a Jan. 2 ride on the Rose Parade float, “Expanding Hope,” nine cancer survivors will share stories of unwavering belief, perseverance and how City of Hope, one of the largest cancer research and treatment organizations in the United States, provided lifesaving therapies and compassionate care.

City of Hope’s float encapsulates this year’s Rose Parade theme, “Turning The Corner.” Leading health care professionals will ride or walk alongside their cancer patients, whose strength, determination and positive outlook served them well during their journey, turning a corner to beat cancer.

The 50-foot long and nearly 17-foot-tall float built by Phoenix Decorating Company will feature animated butterflies, symbols of hope and transformation. The bridges represent City of Hope bridging the access gap in leading cancer treatment and care for the underserved, and expanding to reach more patients, families and communities across the country. 

"For City of Hope, there is no better way to begin the new year than by having the privilege of being part of the Rose Parade celebration," said Stephen J. Forman, M.D., renowned City of Hope cancer physician and director of its Hematologic Malignancies Research Institute, who has ridden or walked in the Rose Parade with his patients and other cancer survivors for the last 10 years. "Our ‘Expanding Hope’ float represents the hope and dreams of many cancer survivors who are healthy again thanks to the research and care that City of Hope provides. For me, it is always an honor to participate in the Rose Parade. Thousands of people along the parade route are very moved to see our float, having themselves been touched by the care and research City of Hope does to help them or someone they know."

Many of the patients chose to share their cancer journey so that others diagnosed with a similar disease do not feel alone. Their commitment to their community is unequaled.

Shirley Munoz, 36, La Puente: When Shirley Munoz discovered she had Stage 4 lung cancer, she thought her doctor was mistaken. She was only 34 and a nonsmoker, so she was shocked to learn she had anaplastic lymphoma kinase-positive (ALK-positive) lung cancer. ALK-positive lung cancer is a type of nonsmall cell lung cancer caused by a gene mutation. It only occurs in approximately 5% of all lung cancer patients, many of whom are under 50.

Before coming to City of Hope, Munoz was frustrated by her medical care. In 2020, she began experiencing a bad cough that wouldn’t go away. After a computed tomography scan, her doctors told her they didn’t know what was wrong, but they were certain it wasn’t cancer. After more tests, Munoz’s doctors then told her she actually did have cancer. They couldn’t say what kind, but they told her it had spread all over her body. Then, she received the most devastating news of all — she only had a year to live. Feeling confused and hopeless, Munoz sought a second opinion at City of Hope.

After reviewing Munoz’s medical records, her new oncologist, Erminia Massarelli, M.D., Ph.D., M.S., concluded that her cancer was only on her right lung and was treatable. Finally, Munoz felt like she was in capable hands. She started chemo, but soon switched to targeted therapy when her ALK mutation was discovered. Munoz’s treatment protocol now includes taking several daily pills to keep her cancer under control. This treatment modality allows for more flexibility and fewer side effects than other therapies like chemo or radiation. Now, Munoz can do the things she loves again, like traveling and attending concerts with her husband, Richard. After years of uncertainty and fear, she is living life to the fullest. For more details, read this blog.  

Shalone Javier, 47, West Covina: In 2017, Shalone Javier, a mother of five, found a small, dark mark on her left thigh. The spot appeared out of nowhere, which concerned her, so she went to her primary care physician to have it checked out. Her doctor recommended that she see a dermatologist, which she did, but despite her concerns, the dermatologist assured her that the spot was nothing to worry about and sent her on her way. By December 2019, the bump on her leg had become impossible to ignore. After years of being told the lump on her thigh was nothing, doctors finally did a biopsy, which revealed that Javier had Stage 3C nodular melanoma
Javier had surgery to remove a large portion of her thigh. Skin, tissue and muscle reaching all the way to the bone were cut out, leaving an indentation on her leg. During the procedure, surgeons also did a lymph node dissection to see if Javier’s cancer had spread. Six weeks after the procedure, she learned that it had. 

At this point, Javier knew that seeking care at a comprehensive cancer center was her best chance at survival. She advocated for herself, secured a referral to City of Hope from her doctor and began treatment. 

After completing a full year of immunotherapy treatments, Javier finally received some good news: She had no active cancer in her body. Now, after all of the challenges and setbacks she faced on her cancer journey, Javier is feeling better than ever. For more details, read this blog.

Eddie Ramirez, 24, West Covina: Eddie Ramirez dreamt of wearing a pair of Converse shoes when he was 9 years old, but he had to wait until he was 22 to put them on. That’s because Ramirez was diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma, the second most common childhood bone cancer, when he was in elementary school. The surgery to remove the tumor left Ramirez with his right leg several inches shorter than his left. The only way he could stand or walk was by wearing a large, unsightly prosthetic boot. He wore that for 13 years.

External pins that would require a long time to heal and cause scarring were needed to correct the imbalance. Lee M. Zuckerman, M.D., a City of Hope orthopedic surgeon, conducted a pioneering procedure where he implanted a telescoping rod inside the bone of Ramirez’s right leg using small incisions. The rod contains an internal motor that is driven by a magnet, allowing the rod to telescope. After surgery, the patient uses an external magnet to activate the motor, which gently moves the bone by about a millimeter a day from where it was cut. The body forms new bone around the rod, similar to how the body would heal a broken bone. Ramirez is now able to walk using his Converse shoes. For more details, read this blog.

Courtney “Coco” Johnson, 18, Pasadena: In spring 2020, a 15-year-old Coco Johnson inadvertently brought joy and hope to so many who were quarantined indoors with an endless cycle of bad, scary news. Johnson had undergone oncologic surgery with J. Dominic Femino, M.D., chief of City of Hope’s Division of Orthopaedic Surgery, and she had just finished her last round of chemotherapy for a rare bone cancer called Ewing’s sarcoma. To celebrate, her friends and neighbors lined the street with cars and signs to welcome her back home, while also safely social distancing. This heartwarming homecoming went viral and was featured on the first episode of the YouTube show “Some Good News With John Krasinski.” Ellen DeGeneres later interviewed Johnson on “The Ellen Show.”

Unfortunately, the parade was not the end of Johnson’s cancer journey. In December 2020, she received a secondary cancer diagnosis: acute myeloid leukemia, a rare and serious side effect of the lifesaving chemotherapy she had received. She underwent treatment and a subsequent blood stem cell transplant at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles in March 2021. 

During her cancer treatment, Johnson participated in many clinical trials at City of Hope. Yet, she was determined not to fall behind in school and continued her studies during her treatment, recovery and through her summers. Today, Johnson continues to recover with a positive outlook. She is eager to share her story to raise awareness about these diseases, as well as to inspire people to donate blood. “I received a lot of blood throughout my treatment just to keep me feeling good and healthy,” she said. For more details, read this Q&A.

Sandy Shapiro, 62, Los Angeles: In less than three years, single mother and documentary producer Sandy Shapiro faced medical conditions that would have overwhelmed anyone else: a breast cancer diagnosis, a double mastectomy, the shock of then developing acute myeloid leukemia that required a stem cell transplant, graft-versus-host disease (a serious transplant complication in which donor immune cells can attack their new environment) and — to top it off — pneumonia caused by COVID-19. She has survived all of these and is doing well.

After her divorce in 2016, Shapiro was busy raising two daughters, so she skipped regular screening check-ups for two years. In 2018, her doctor found something suspicious in her right breast that ended up being breast cancer. Shapiro had been afraid of breast cancer her entire life; her mother and several cousins had it. So, as her treatment option, she chose a double mastectomy. Months later, she was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia and started her cancer treatment at City of Hope with internationally recognized hematologist Stephen J. Forman, M.D., director of City of Hope’s Hematologic Malignancies Research Institute. Shapiro received chemotherapy and, eventually, a stem cell transplant with cells obtained from her sister. Then during her recovery, she contracted COVID-19, which led to pneumonia. Now, more than a year past her transplant, Shapiro remains in remission and is determined to be there for her daughters’ milestone moments. For more details, read this blog.

Krissy Kobata, 40, Los Angeles: Krissy Kobata lived so many years feeling like a “ticking time bomb.” At 25, she was diagnosed with a blood disorder called myelodysplastic syndrome, a condition sometimes called “preleukemia.” She needed a bone marrow transplant, but Kobata is of mixed origin — her father is Japanese and her mother is white — making it difficult to find a blood donor match. White people have a 79% chance of finding a match, and the odds start dwindling with Black people having the worse chance at 29%, according to Be the Match, which is operated by the National Marrow Donor Program. People of mixed ancestry have even lower chances. 

Kobata, a senior client lead at an adtech company, had a successful stem cell transplant at City of Hope on Dec. 1, 2017. She continues to be an advocate for hapas like herself — or any people of mixed race. Kobata is featured in a documentary called “Mixed Match,” where mixed-race blood cancer patients reflect on their multiracial identities as they struggle with an arduous search to find a bone marrow donor match. Kobata is chair of the Los Angeles Board of Ambassadors for Be the Match, where she raises money and awareness of the need for diverse people to join the bone marrow donor registry. For more details, read this blog.

Simon Bray, 53, Rossmoor: Simon Bray, analyst for horse racing TV network Fanduel TV, found out he had a blood cancer called multiple myeloma when his vertebrae collapsed in the middle of the night. “Those were probably some of the darkest times for me because I'd been told I had cancer, but I wasn't treating it. I had to go through the [back] surgery first,” Bray said. About three months later, he started his cancer treatment at City of Hope with Amrita Krishnan, M.D., an internationally recognized multiple myeloma expert. He received radiation, chemotherapy and a stem cell transplant. 

“It used to be that work was No. 1, work was No. 2, and maybe family life and vacations were No. 3,” Bray said. “Now, it's family first. Being home during the pandemic has only helped reinforce this for me.” Bray recorded live Fanduel TV segments from his home during the pandemic, but is now back to a regular schedule. Bray is very careful because his lifesaving treatments have left him immunocompromised and more at-risk of serious symptoms if he contracts COVID-19. For more details, read this blog.

Amanda Salas: Amanda Salas, entertainment anchor of Fox 11’s “Good Day LA,” experienced mysterious weight loss and unexplained itching, as well as swelling of the face. After four misdiagnoses, doctors found a grapefruit-sized tumor between her heart and lungs and diagnosed her with a rare form of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma called mediastinal large B cell lymphoma. Her oncologist at that hospital said, “You’re in the best hands going to City of Hope,” Salas recalled. 

Alex Herrera, M.D., hematologist-oncologist at City of Hope, treated Salas with an intensive, weeklong course of nonstop chemotherapy. She spent the first five days at City of Hope Helford Clinical Research Hospital, and then returned home with a chemo fanny pack that gave her a small dose of chemo every hour. 

Salas’ high-energy, positive attitude helped bring levity to the situation: She threw a “buzz” party when it was time to shave her head. Friends, co-workers and loved ones encircled her salon chair and, with each pass of the electric clippers, everyone in the room downed a shot of tequila. “That way, we all got buzzed!” Salas explained. 

As a public figure, Salas has used her platform to pay it forward by sharing her cancer journey on social media, hosting fundraisers for lymphoma research and treatment (including for The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society), raising awareness about the disease and informing the public about cancer through her news reporting. 

She regularly reminds others about the importance of lifesaving blood donations — especially now when there are nationwide shortages. For more details, read this blog or this Q&A.

Matthew Gatewood, 55, Santa Clarita: Captain Matthew Gatewood of the Los Angeles City Fire Department was in the prime of his life at 39 when an oncologist diagnosed him with a blood cancer called multiple myeloma. Gatewood was told he had five more years to live. Thanks to international multiple myeloma expert Amrita Krishnan, M.D., professor in the Division of Multiple Myeloma at City of Hope, he is still alive and thriving 15 years later.

Gatewood has received two blood stem cell transplants, has taken part in several clinical trials and continues with maintenance therapy. He worked with physician-scientists, saying “I was always willing to try something that might give me what I wanted — to stay active, continue to work, fight this thing on my feet — as well as
give someone else an opportunity to be healthy. I could be the first one to be healed, but if that didn’t work, I could help doctors understand what this medicine could do for someone else.” For more details, read this Q&A.

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About City of Hope
City of Hope's mission is to deliver the cures of tomorrow to the people who need them today. Founded in 1913, City of Hope has grown into one of the largest cancer research and treatment organizations in the U.S. and one of the leading research centers for diabetes and other life-threatening illnesses. As an independent, National Cancer Institute-designated comprehensive cancer center, City of Hope brings a uniquely integrated model to patients, spanning cancer care, research and development, academics and training, and innovation initiatives. Research and technology developed at City of Hope has been the basis for numerous breakthrough cancer medicines, as well as human synthetic insulin and monoclonal antibodies. A leader in bone marrow transplantation and immunotherapy, such as CAR T cell therapy, City of Hope’s personalized treatment protocols help advance cancer care throughout the world.
With a goal of expanding access to the latest discoveries and leading-edge care to more patients, families and communities, City of Hope’s growing national system includes its main Los Angeles campus, a network of clinical care locations across Southern California, a new cancer center in Orange County, California, and Cancer Treatment Centers of America. City of Hope’s affiliated family of organizations includes Translational Genomics Research Institute and AccessHopeTM. For more information about City of Hope, follow us on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram and LinkedIn.