For most people, one in three means little more than a
For David Hernandez, it means his life.
“I mean, they tell me I have a one in three chance, I tell them
I have a three in three chance,” said Hernandez, 20, who travels to
New York City today to find out whether he will live to turn
He has had cancer for the past six months, and he’s taking the
chance that an expensive stem cell transplant – also called a bone
marrow transplant – in Manhattan will cure him.
There’s a problem, though: The surgery only has a one-in-three
But his doctors told him it is basically his only option, said
Hernandez, a CSU sophomore sociology major.
He sat at a round table near the window in the oncology
department of Poudre Valley Hospital. Hernandez jokingly called the
table his “office,” but all it had on it was a box of Kleenex. He
was dressed casually in a T-shirt and jeans, and he had an IV
machine that he rolled around with him everywhere he went.
“They told me that their success rate with the bone marrow
transplant is only one in three, which means, they said, that if
it’s not successful that I’d be diagnosed terminal.”
Doctors originally diagnosed Hernandez with testicular cancer in
early November 2003. This came after he noticed a lump in his chest
one night in early August. He also developed a buildup in one of
Hernandez and his parents, who later joined him at the hospital
table, all stressed the importance of early detection in preventing
cancer. In Hernandez’s case, if he had gone to the doctor sooner,
he might not have to undergo the transplant.
“Anything that you notice unusual, don’t hesitate to go see a
doctor and ask about it,” said Dorothy Hernandez, David’s
He scheduled an ultrasound to find out what was happening to his
body and he was told he might have a cancerous tumor.
A CT scan confirmed that he had cancer throughout his body.
Cancer cells are measured by tumor markers, which assess the
amount of protein a cancer has produced and signify how developed a
cancer is at a certain point.
When David was diagnosed, his tumor markers were at 2 million.
After four cycles of chemotherapy, they were down to 28. People
without cancer have zero tumor markers.
The Collegian reported in mid-February that Hernandez had
undergone four cycles of chemo and was waiting to go to New York to
see specialists who might be able to help him further.
This was under the recommendation of his Colorado doctor, who
suggested he get a second opinion at Memorial Sloan-Kettering
Cancer Center in Manhattan, one of the nation’s top cancer
The doctors there told him they were not sure what the cancer
was going to do next.
“Pretty much I had my cancer on the ropes and they weren’t sure
if it was going to go down or if it was going to come back
swinging,” Hernandez said.
The New York doctors told him to do a weekly blood test to keep
an eye on the cancer. After about a month of this, he received a
call during a class in the Clark Building. It was his doctor
telling him his tumor marker count had skyrocketed.
“So I picked up, I left the class in tears, went and checked
into the hospital, just because I knew I needed more chemotherapy,”
A New York state of mind
The doctors put Hernandez on a more aggressive chemotherapy
regiment, one that caused nausea, vomiting and even hallucinations.
Then they let him out and told him to come back in 14 days for
another round of chemo.
Since the cancer had not disappeared, his doctors decided he
should consider a bone marrow transplant. This involves doctors
killing off his bone marrow through chemotherapy and then giving
him new marrow to help his body “rebuild itself anew, hopefully,”
Usually this procedure requires a bone marrow donor, but in this
case Hernandez will be donating his own marrow beforehand.
“They drill into your spinal cord and then use a needle to suck
out your bone marrow. One of the most painful things you can have
done to you, guaranteed,” he said.
Before he decided to go to New York, Hernandez met with a bone
marrow team from Sloan-Kettering and decided that was where he
wanted to have the procedure done.
He decided to go with Sloan-Kettering despite having to leave
home for six months.
During his time in New York, Hernandez and his family will live
in the Ronald McDonald House, which provides a free stay to cancer
patients and their families.
Hernandez’s parents will alternate every two weeks in Manhattan
because they both have jobs and commitments in Colorado.
The bone marrow transplant procedure takes about four weeks. If
it is successful, David Hernandez will have to undergo four more
surgeries to eliminate cancerous tumors. He said the procedure also
has several side effects. Twenty percent of people experience
permanent hearing loss and 10 percent of people have organ failure
and die, he said.
One of the problems with using the bone marrow transplant now,
Hernandez said, is that it makes it nearly impossible to use the
“So it’s kind of like we’re using all our weapons right now,
which is kind of scary. Because this means this has got to be it,
this has got to be the final stand,” he said.
The road ahead
Hernandez has considered his life if he doesn’t become one of
the three successes.
If he goes to New York and the procedure is not successful, at
least he tried the best he could, he said.
“I was given 20 years, and I’m lucky to have that. I mean, I
know other terminal cancer patients who don’t have 20 years, and I
was healthy for 20 so I can stress I’m very lucky,” he said.
If the procedure is not successful, doctors said he would have
about six months.
“But hopefully that won’t be the case,” he said, pausing a
moment to collect himself.
If Hernandez were deemed terminal, he would pretty much have two
options: stick with the chemo to slow up the process or to let it
“I wouldn’t want to waste one minute of it hooked up to a chemo
thing,” he said.
But Hernandez remains optimistic by looking beyond next
“So ideally, if everything goes according to plan, this took a
year out of my life, a year that was dedicated to cancer and
beating it, which I don’t think is that bad, for beating cancer, a
year,” he said.
The year away from his life has led him to change his career
goals, however. Instead of wanting to be a police officer, as he
did before November, he now wants to be a nurse.
He feels he can offer a unique perspective to patients in his
“I see this profession and I idolize it because of what it’s
meant to me and I want to mirror that,” he said. “Maybe I’ll tell
them, ‘Hey I’ve been in your situation, you know. I’ve been laying
in that bed myself, and I’m OK.’ Well, hopefully it will boost
If Hernandez does get better, and the procedure does eliminate
the cancer, he will still always have to worry about the cancer
coming back. He said he eventually will die of cancer; it’s just a
matter of time.
But for now, Hernandez is focused on living for today.
Before he left for New York, he planned to do some things he did
not have the chance to do in the hospital.
He wanted to eat sushi because he had a craving for it.
He wanted to ride a horse so he could take care of himself.
“(With cancer) you’re constantly being taken care of,” he said.
“You’re never really by yourself.”
He also has three recommendations for other students: seize the
day, do not be afraid to change a life’s direction and do not give
up when others offer doubt.
He said people should not put off things in life, because they
may not have a chance later.
“I mean honestly, you never know when you’re going to be cut
down in the prime of your life,” he said.
This experienced outlook on life was something he always had,
his family said, but the cancer has enhanced it.
“He’s always been mature,” said Robert Hernandez, David’s
father. “I think this is another level of maturity.”
Regardless of what happens in New York, David Hernandez wants to
have no regrets about his life.
“Whether I live a year or 50 more years, I realize this is one
of the best times of my life and I’ve got to take advantage of