Kidney cancer survivor in Orange County

Kidney cancer survivor pilots toward a promising future

City of Hope Orange County clinical trial kept this grateful patient’s dreams on course.

When you hear Marcelo Vine talk about his passions — flying the experimental plane he built himself, winning national car races in his Porsche 944 — it’s hard to imagine anything could keep him down. That spark to make the most of every day continued during his treatment for kidney cancer at City of Hope Orange County.

“I’m living life to the fullest as a way of expressing gratitude and because it’s important to make the most of every day. That’s one of the big lessons I’ve learned after having cancer,” the Lakewood resident said.

“When I had to face a cancer diagnosis at 49 years old, I asked myself, ‘What are you not doing to enjoy life? What do you have to live for and what do you want to accomplish?’ And then I told myself, ‘OK Marcelo, you are going to bear down on this and take your best shot. To do that, you need to find a professional that specializes in your type of cancer.’

“Through City of Hope, I discovered that cancer science and research has led to major advances in treatment and that people with cancer have reasons for hope.”

Changing course

In 2016, Vine took time off from his electrical business to fulfill his childhood dream of becoming a pilot. He was attending flight school in Florida when he started feeling ill. The symptoms progressed: He couldn’t keep food down, lost nearly 50 pounds of muscle and would sweat through the night.

Vine’s primary care doctor referred him to Sassan Farjami, M.D., a medical oncologist and hematologist practicing at what is now City of Hope Long Beach Worsham, part of City of Hope’s Orange County regional network of advanced cancer care.

Farjami discovered a large mass on Vine’s left kidney. The diagnosis was stage 4 kidney cancer, and testing revealed it had spread to the lungs. Vine’s most pressing need was surgery to remove the kidney, followed by evaluation and additional treatment upon recovery.

The kidney surgery was successful, but by the time Vine fully recovered, his symptoms had returned. Vine was unsure what he wanted to do next. The treatment options he had explored on his own seemed to have many side effects and low rates of success.

But Farjami — one of very few medical oncologists in the nation with quadruple board certifications — had encouraging news: Vine was a strong candidate for a clinical trial of an advanced immunotherapy – an investigational drug that could train Vine’s own immune system to better recognize and attack cancer cells – and potentially save his life. Farjami would carefully monitor the treatment. The two talked it over, and Vine enrolled immediately.

“My situation was so urgent that I began my first infusion the very next day,” said Vine. “I’m grateful to Dr. Farjami for the depth of his expertise, his knowledge of the latest cancer research and clinical trials, and for everything he and City of Hope did and continue to do to care for me.”

The trial was “a 100% success,” Vine said.

To help safeguard his health, Vine made a range of lifestyle changes that included adopting a more nutritious diet and finding ways to manage daily stress. Before his diagnosis, Vine loved to eat dishes from his native Chile that were rich in saturated fat and refined carbs, and he was constantly dealing with the pressures of being a business owner. After consulting with a nutritionist, Vine cut out all red meat, sugar, flour and refined foods. “It wasn’t easy to give up some my favorites, but the mental discipline I’ve developed through racing and flying helps me stick with it,” Vine said.

Clear skies ahead

Through the advanced cancer care he receives at City of Hope Orange County, Vine says his future has taken flight. He is grateful to have been in remission for several years. His hobbies and his business are going strong. He sees Farjami twice a year.

To “pay it forward,” Vine is willing to go anywhere to share his story and help others as needed. A devoted member of the Kidney Cancer Association, Vine actively participates in support groups and has grown supportive relationships with more than 30 patients. He is exploring how he could take patients living with cancer for a spin in his airplane so they can experience the same joy he feels soaring through the sky.

“I'm here for the long haul. I still want to go racing, fly my airplane, travel with my wife and enjoy being with my family,” Vine said.

Vine is also thrilled that his niece is part of the nursing team at City of Hope Orange County Lennar Foundation Cancer Center, caring for patients with the same excellence and compassion he receives.

“There is a superior level of cancer care at City of Hope Orange County,” Vine said. “When I was diagnosed with cancer and didn’t know what the future held for me, I needed a lot of hope, and that is what Dr. Farjami and the clinical trial gave to me. Having City of Hope walk with me through my journey with cancer has made all the difference.”

When it comes to cancer, it’s Hope First. Call 888-333-HOPE (4673).