Precision medicine is the answer for this problem-solving lung cancer

Precision medicine is the answer for this problem-solving lung cancer survivor

John Ryan knows how science can be applied to solve problems. An IT systems engineer, he works from home managing projects and writing recommendations. After a busy day innovating technologies, he devotes his energy to fostering cats for adoption. “Cats are a little complicated, which might be why I enjoy caring for them,” Ryan says with a smile. And although cancer has caused him to trade long hikes up Santiago Peak for light evening walks or exercising on his elliptical machine, Ryan says he is living with hope.

When he was diagnosed with Stage 4 nonsmall cell lung cancer in 2019, Ryan wanted a second opinion from a lung cancer expert. So, he sought a like-minded physician — a problem solver who understands the complexities of the disease and works to bring people with lung cancer the benefits of scientific breakthroughs.

Ryan found a kindred spirit in Danny Nguyen, M.D., a medical oncologist and hematologist at City of Hope Orange County Lennar Foundation Cancer Center and City of Hope | Huntington Beach. Ryan comes to both locations for care and to see Nguyen, who offered Ryan the expertise and answers he was hoping for.

“Originally, a PET scan had found cancer in 14 places throughout my body. This was about as serious as things could get,” Ryan said. “I wanted a specialist, like Dr. Nguyen, who has cancer research expertise and knowledge about advanced therapies that could be right for me. I knew that would make all the difference.”

Also read: The changing lung cancer story: What you need to know

Genetic testing revealed Ryan had an Exon 20 mutation of the EGFR gene, an uncommon genetic change associated with nonsmall cell lung cancer. The good news, said Nguyen, was that there was a promising new drug that specifically targets Exon 20. Ryan quickly enrolled in a clinical trial for the drug, with Nguyen supervising his care every step of the way. Speedy action was crucial, Ryan said.

Before Ryan volunteered for the trial, a tumor was pushing on his lung, and he was having trouble breathing. One day, when he was in the office pre-COVID-19, it got worse, and his employer needed to call an ambulance to take Ryan to the emergency room. But the trial drug has been shrinking the tumors.

“I’ve been in the trial for over three years now, and it’s buying me time as more new treatments are being developed,” Ryan said. “There have been tremendous advances in lung cancer in recent years, and in the event my drug becomes less effective, Dr. Nguyen is always telling me about the latest options to explore. I have hope because there is a path going forward.”

Also read: 10 words and phrases that offer hope to patients with cancer

A resident of Westminster, California, Ryan says it is game-changing to have City of Hope’s cancer experts close to home in Orange County. Just as important, he said, is the focus on each patient as an individual.

“I sometimes feel like I’m the only patient they have for the day, and I get that attention from everyone, from Dr. Nguyen to the nurses to the medical assistants and staff.”

The patient-centered approach reaches across all cultures, said Ryan, who is Vietnamese. He was heartened to see bilingual employees at City of Hope | Huntington Beach work closely with API patients who were limited-English speakers. “In Orange County, you have to understand our many cultures if you want to care for our health, and the City of Hope team reflects that in the respect and consideration they show all patients.”

Ryan recently joined other lung cancer survivors, community members, and City of Hope Orange County physicians and staff at City of Hope Orange County Lennar Foundation Cancer Center to paint dozens of white ribbons on campus for people impacted by lung cancer.

He is also an Angel Buddy with the International Cancer Advocacy Network Exon 20 Support Group. He helps lung cancer patients with EGFR Exon 20 by providing peer-to-peer support with side effects and raising awareness of recent advances in Exon 20 treatments. He has supported patients from Connecticut, Canada and Iraq.

“Precision medicine and clinical research changed my lung cancer story,” Ryan said. “I’m a happy person, and my life is going well. I want to make sure people facing lung cancer know that there is hope and they are not alone.”

Learn more about City of Hope’s world-renowned lung cancer care in Orange County. To make an appointment at any of our five Orange County locations, call 888-333-HOPE (4673).