John Cardinale had always been a fitness fanatic, but it wasn’t until he was diagnosed with stage 4 gastric cancer in March 2011 that he truly appreciated the value of staying in shape. Cardinale, who is the vice president of communications and marketing at Infineon Raceway in Sonoma, California, put himself on a strict regimen of dietary changes, physical conditioning, and mental conditioning. Today Cardinale’s stomach tumor is in remission and his liver cancer is greatly diminished.
Cardinale was 45 when he started his gastric cancer journey at the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. In addition to his stomach tumor, Cardinale had about a half-dozen tumors in his liver that were over 10 centimeters long, he says. So oncologists at MD Anderson put together an aggressive chemo regimen consisting of Oxaliplatin, Taxotere and 5FU. They also mixed in Herceptin, because Cardinale’s tumor tested positive for HER2—a protein biomarker that’s associated with certain aggressive cancers. Herceptin, made by Genentech, was originally approved by the FDA to treat HER2-positive breast cancer, but scientists at the company continued to study it and discovered that it is associated with some gastric cancers. The FDA approved Herceptin’s use in those cancers in late 2010.
At first, Cardinale was knocked out by the toxic drug cocktail. He lost 27 pounds in 10 days. “That got me scared,” he says. “I knew my body had to be able to tolerate that toxicity.” By the second treatment, Cardinale felt a little better, so he put together a diet and exercise plan for himself. First, he forced himself to eat between 3,500 and 5,000 calories a day. “Trying to get that much food in was a challenge,” he says. But it worked: His weight increased from 164 pounds to 190.
Then Cardinale started working out, lifting weights three or four days a week. And he began walking in the park. “At first I couldn’t do a single lap around the track,” he says. “Now I’m up to two miles.”
Cardinale says he was driven to beat his cancer by his love for his wife and two daughters. “My will to live made me very focused on everything I was doing,” he says. “The goal is staying alive for my wife and two daughters.”
About eight months into his treatment program, Cardinale started seeing a therapist to learn meditation. “I was never into that stuff, but it helped me gain inner peace,” he says. “It’s very therapeutic. I know it sounds cliché, but you have to stay positive. You have to keep a clear head and focus on what’s important—living.”
In February of this year, Cardinale underwent a procedure called radioembolization at Stanford. The procedure involves stringing a catheter from the groin to the liver and delivering radiation directly to the tumors there. Cardinale has just four small tumors left in his liver. He is still on chemo, though he was switched to a new three-drug combo recently, he says.
Cardinale says he’s sticking with his diet and exercise routine, and is now able to run three miles at a time. On January 7, he led “John’s March Against Gastric Cancer,” a symbolic walk around the Infineon Raceway that raised funds for GCF. “I’m very blessed. I’m alive going on 14 months,” he says. “Cancer is an unbelievable teacher—it puts everything in perspective. I’ve learned what a gift life is.”