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

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

John Ryan knows how science can be applied to solve problems. An information systems engineer, he works from home to manage projects and write recommendations. After a busy day innovating in technology, he devotes his energy to promoting the adoption of cats. “Cats are a bit complicated, maybe that’s why I like taking care of them,” Ryan says with a smile. And although cancer has prompted him to trade long hikes up Santiago Peak for light evening strolls or exercising on his elliptical trainer, Ryan says he lives with hope.

When he was diagnosed with stage 4 non-small cell lung cancer in 2019, Ryan wanted a second opinion from a lung cancer expert. So he sought out a like-minded doctor – a problem-solver who understands the complexities of the disease and strives to bring people with lung cancer the benefits of scientific breakthroughs.

Ryan has found a kindred spirit in Danny Nguyen, MD, medical oncologist and hematologist at City of Hope Orange County Lennar Foundation Cancer Center and City of Hope | Huntington Beach. Ryan comes to both places for treatment and to see Nguyen, who has given Ryan the expertise and answers he was hoping for.

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

Also Read: The Changing History of Lung Cancer: What You Need to Know

Genetic testing revealed Ryan had an Exon 20 mutation in the EGFR gene, a rare genetic change associated with non-small cell lung cancer. The good news, Nguyen said, was that there was a promising new drug that specifically targeted exon 20. Ryan quickly enrolled in a clinical trial for the drug, with Nguyen overseeing his care every step of the way. Quick action was crucial, Ryan said.

Before Ryan volunteered for the trial, a tumor was growing on his lung and he was struggling to breathe. One day, while he was in the office before COVID-19, the situation got worse and his employer had to call an ambulance to take Ryan to the emergency room. But the trial drug shrank the tumors.

“I’ve been in the trial for over three years now, and it saves me time as new treatments are being developed,” Ryan said. “There have been tremendous advances in lung cancer in recent years, and in case my medication becomes less effective, Dr. Nguyen is always talking to me about the latest options to explore. I have hope because there is a way to go.

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

A resident of Westminster, Calif., Ryan says it’s a game-changer to have City of Hope cancer experts near their home in Orange County. Equally important, he said, is the focus on each patient as an individual.

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

The patient-centered approach cuts across cultures, said Ryan, who is Vietnamese. He was heartened to see bilingual employees at City of Hope | Huntington Beach works closely with API patients who spoke little English. “In Orange County, you need to understand our many cultures if you want to take care of 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 doctors and staff from the City of Hope Orange County and staff from the City of Hope Orange County Lennar Foundation Cancer Center to paint dozens of ribbons whites on campus for people affected by lung cancer.

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

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

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

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