Evan’s Fight — Mayo Patient Becomes Face of ‘Cancer Treatment’s New Direction’

JohnsonEvanIf Evan Johnson had his druthers, we're guessing he wouldn't have chosen to become the subject of a recent feature story by The Wall Street Journal. The piece chronicles Evan's cancer treatment journey and the "new directions oncologists are taking with genetic testing" to "find and attack" tumors like his that are resistant to other treatments. It's been a difficult and unwelcome journey, but woven into his story is hope and the potential of genetic testing in tailoring cancer treatment.

Evan's first trip to Mayo Clinic was fairly dramatic. He was airlifted to Mayo in February 2014 after unexplained chest pain and bruises that took over his body. A care team that included Pashtoon Kasi, M.B.B.S., Naseema Gangat, M.B.B.S., Shahrukh Hashmi, M.D., Mrinal Patnaik, M.B.B.S., Mark Litzow, M.D., and the Center of Individualized Medicine, began by running a genetic test that revealed Evan was suffering from a "particularly aggressive form of acute myeloid leukemia" that would require him to undergo a stem cell transplant, the Journal reports. But when doctors put Evan on "a standard chemotherapy regimen" to prepare his body, its effects on his immune system "opened the doors" for a "mysterious fungal infection." According to Evan's dad, Ken Johnson, "That throat infection nearly did him in."

Evan's infection eventually went away, the Journal reports, and opened up the opportunity for a stem cell transplant. After the transplant failed, Evan's care team at Mayo enrolled him in a clinical trial of "an experimental AML drug." That gave him a period of normalcy. "Free of toxic chemotherapy, his hair came back," reporter Ron Winslow writes. Evan also started to regain some of the 55 pounds he'd lost since coming to Mayo.

As preparations for a second stem cell transplant progressed, the Journal reports that Evan's doctors saw something in his blood work that made them fear his cancer was "evolving." Following genetic clues, Evan’s care team regrouped and worked to "revamp" his treatment plan. Eventually, "taking a suggestion from a national expert panel on AML," Winslow writes, his care team at Mayo included "a drug that hits" both the gene mutation thought to have originally led to his leukemia and a genetic alteration associated with chronic myeloid leukemia, called the Philadelphia chromosome. The results, thankfully, were more promising this time around and helped lay the groundwork for a second stem cell transplant. According to the Journal, "recent tests suggest" Evan finally now "has a chance of a sustained, durable remission."

Though Evan's cancer journey was filled with more ups and downs than they would have preferred, his father tells us there was always one constant along the way-- the family's unwavering trust in Evan's care team at Mayo Clinic. "From the second we got to Mayo Clinic, we put all of our trust into his care team," he says. "We knew he was getting the best treatment possible and that Mayo was the only place where he could have been given the best chance to survive all of this."

You can read the rest of Evan's story here. Then, be sure to let us know what you think by sharing your comments below, and share this story with others using the tools atop this page.