Retired teacher credits lung cancer
clinical trials with saving his life

Above: Sherman Johnson, his wife Susan, and former NFL star and lung cancer awareness advocate Chris Draft. Draft surprised Johnson with a white ribbon from The White Ribbon Project at OCTANe’s 2021 MedTech Innovation Forum.
By City of Hope Orange County | December 28, 2021
If anyone can speak to the importance of clinical trials, it’s Sherman Johnson. The retired teacher says they have made all the difference in his fight against lung cancer.
“Clinical trials haven’t just kept me alive; they’ve tremendously improved my quality of life,” said the Oceanside resident. He has been on five clinical trials, and recently started a sixth.
As someone who never smoked, Johnson was shocked that a persistent cough led to a lung cancer diagnosis from his family physician, who gave him six months to two years to live.
“When I was diagnosed in 2016, the only treatment option I was given was chemotherapy,” Johnson said. “But my son did some research and told me, ‘Dad, people with lung cancer are living longer because of clinical drug trials. You need to get involved in one.’ The more I learned, the I more I wanted to participate.”
New lung cancer therapies hit the target
Johnson has participated in multiple clinical trials over the past five years under the supervision of City of Hope Orange County’s Danny Nguyen, M.D, and at other cancer research and treatment organizations across the country. The first trial involved an immunotherapy drug, which harnesses the patient’s immune system to eradicate cancer cells.
The other trials focused on targeted therapies, where the patient’s drug protocol acts on the specific genetic mutation behind their cancer.
“My mutation is called Exon 20-768. Picture a string of pearls, 900 pearls long, each the size of a grain of sand, and 768 is my defective one. Amazingly, my drugs hit 768 to target my specific genetic tumor,” Johnson said.
When Johnson met Dr. Nguyen, a medical oncologist and hematologist who practices at City of Hope Huntington Beach and City of Hope Irvine Sand Canyon, he knew he’d found the right physician.
“He really cares about me as a person,” Johnson said. “I come from Oceanside to see him every three weeks, and he always checks on me between visits. If my wife, Susan, texts him with a question, he always answers. He’s on top of everything.”
Johnson draws further reassurance from Dr. Nguyen’s highly specialized expertise and experience in clinical trials. “If I tell him I heard about a new drug, he already knows about it, and he’s always looking for new trials and new therapies that could benefit me. He and the other experts at City of Hope are on the leading edge of the research and setting new standards of care that others will one day follow.”
Leading-edge research, closer to home
Johnson’s willingness to participate in clinical trials means he’s traveled extensively, even enrolling in an out-of-state trial that required him to fly every month. He praises the urgency with which City of Hope Orange County is delivering its advanced research and treatment directly into the community, with its expanded network of advanced cancer care and the highly anticipated 2022 opening of its NCI-designated comprehensive cancer center, Lennar Foundation Cancer Center.
“Convenient access is important because when people get diagnosed with cancer, they’re overwhelmed. Having a long commute for treatment can add to the stress, especially if they don’t feel well,” Johnson said.
Johnson offers three recommendations for people newly diagnosed with cancer: First, get a second opinion from a physician who specializes in your type of cancer and knows about the latest research and clinical trials. Second, ask about genetic testing, which can identify potential targeted therapies. Third, have hope.
“You have to have hope,” he said. “There are ups and downs, but stay positive. You have to have confidence that your treatment is going to work, and City of Hope gives that to me. My lung cancer story was changed by pioneering science, and it may change yours.”
Hope is growing at City of Hope Orange County. To make an appointment at any of our four Orange County locations, click here or call: