HOUSTON - A young man is thriving years after he was given just a few weeks to live.
Israel Lemus is forever grateful to his medical team and a special woman who gave him an even bigger will to live.
He thought he was in optimal health at 29 years old, then he started suffering unusual symptoms.
"I was looking in the mirror and my eyes just started randomly shooting up and down like this. Like okay, that's weird, and I felt just super anxious when that started happening. And then it started after 30 seconds, and then I was turning my head and I couldn't control it. Then less than about another 30 seconds, I started spinning in place like a top," says Israel.
At first, Israel thought he just dreamed about that episode, but a month later, it happened again.
"I looked at my mother. I'm like, Mom, I don't know what's happening and she's looking in my eyes. She was like what are you looking at, but I wasn't controlling this, and then low and behold, I have a full-blown seizure right in front of them," says Israel.
Israel's family called 911, rushed him to the hospital, and doctors discovered a golf ball-sized mass on his brain. He was informed he had the most advanced stage of the most aggressive type of brain cancer.
"It was the worst day of my life to be honest with you. They told me it was glioblastoma multiforme, and you have eight weeks to live and give me two months. Truth be told, I was devastated. I had my faith. I know I'm going to be good, because I do have my faith. I do have my support system, but it still shook me to my core for sure," says Israel.
Israel called his then-girlfriend, Samantha, to share the devastating news. He expected this to end their relationship.
"She's 21 at the time - there's no way she's going to sign on to this. I've been given two months to live. I'm fully expecting her to say okay, this is done," states Israel.
Not even close! Instead, she moved to Houston from Florida and started planning their wedding.
The next blessing happened after a friend of a friend introduced Israel to Dr. Jay-Jiguang Zhu with UTHealth and Memorial Hermann, a specialist in his rare type of cancer. He and his team had brutal news to share.
"Be prepared to die! What can we do to reverse the course, that is the key thing! Number one, come up with a diagnosis, number two is really put together a strategy moving forward, given the challenging situation," explains Dr. Zhu.
Israel underwent multiple intense surgeries and began clinical trials to battle his cancer.
"Obviously, we know the trials are trials, and we don't know if it's going to be efficacious or not. But the advantage of that is, it gives patients hope and also a way to fight that's unique and novel, compared to standard care. So he's taking a risk and the gamble to some degree, but in a controlled manner," says Dr. Zhu.
That potentially fatal diagnosis was six years ago. Doctors believe his high standard of care, Israel's faith, along with all the love and family support he received, to have packed a powerful punch in his miraculous recovery.
"It is actually remarkable. I use the word miracle," says Dr. Zhu.
Dr. Zhu says it's shocking that he can still work. He has never seen that happen before in patients with glioblastoma. Israel has undergone a lot of treatments.
"I've had three cranial craniotomies. I've done three rounds of triple chemotherapy through IV. I'm still taking chemo pills," says Israel.
He also underwent five gamma knife radiosurgery procedures that delivered precise radiation therapy with gamma rays. He is still closely monitored, visiting Dr. Zhu every two months.
He says doctors hesitate to call his cancer in remission, but he refuses to believe anything but being cancer-free.
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