Pastor Johnny Johnson was just treated at Moffitt with CAR T-cell immunotherapy for multiple myeloma, thanks to improved availability of this breakthrough treatment.
"It's been a journey. When I first discovered that I had cancer seven years ago, it was pretty bad news. So, to be able to have Moffitt and especially Dr. Alsina, a great doctor and a great person, I am blessed," shares Johnny.
With his daughter Jennifer Whittington by his side and support from his wife Annette, Johnny has fantastic and loving caregivers who are also very involved in their ministry, along with other family and friends.
"Jenn and Annette have helped me through this whole journey. They're my lifesavers, big time," says Johnny.
Chimeric antigen receptor therapy (CAR T-cell therapy) is a type of immunotherapy that uses a patient’s own immune system to find and destroy cancerous cells. T cells normally identify and/or eliminate noncancerous foreign invaders, including bacteria and viruses. CAR T-cell therapy involves genetically modifying T-cells to recognize the unique proteins that are found on the surface of cancerous cells and then destroy those cells. Moffitt Cancer Center is pleased to offer CAR T to treat multiple myeloma, as one of a select few cancer centers that are certified to administer the therapy.
Studies have shown that CAR T-cell therapy has a greater than 70% response rate among patients with relapsed multiple myeloma and can lead to a complete response in over 30%.
"The response rate of over 70% seen with CAR T in patients with advanced myeloma is unprecedented. For many patients, this has represented the only opportunity to control the disease and regain their lives. We are very happy to report that after an initial period of CAR T manufacturing constraints, supply has increased, and we now are able to offer this therapy to many more myeloma patients when they need it," said Dr. Alsina.
"Everyone at Moffitt is so kind and patient," says Jenn. "Dr. Alsina is good at explaining everything to where we can understand. And also working with us to time treatment around plans so Daddy can continue living life to the fullest."
Moffitt has now treated in excess of 100 multiple myeloma patients with approved CAR T therapies, more than any other center in the nation.
Outreach Means Everything
This has enabled founding pastor Johnny and his team at Honoring the Father Ministries to continue trips and outreach, sending supplies and support to countries and communities in need. Even though the Covid 19 pandemic coupled with cancer treatment has meant challenges, Johnny continues to travel for mission trips and provide supplies overseas.
"The Moffitt team has personalized care to allow us to continue to go on trips. I was in the mission field most recently three months ago building classrooms. And Dr. Alsina even went on a trip with us, with her two children, after I received a stem cell transplant in 2015."
In Honduras, Johnny and Dr. Melissa Alsina and their families provided healthcare, support and physical labor at the combined faith-based coffee farm, medical clinic and Christian school to those with very limited means.
"Dr. Alsina got her hands dirty and even planted some coffee plants in the field. Then, we went out into some community and very remote areas and she provided medical care there. Anytime you're in that situation, it means a lot to be able to care for folks who didn't have electricity, much less medicines. We go places others aren't willing to go."
Honoring the Father Ministries reaches thousands each year - meeting people at the point of their need. Whether through sports ministry, construction, feeding hungry children, or offering medical services, the Christian outreach program Johnny has built and continues touches many lives and helps people around the world. Over the past 26 years, Honoring the Father has ministered to over 1,000,000 people in Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Peru and Venezuela. Honoring the Father feeds 14,000 children per day in Nicaragua, along with work many other communities.
The CAR T Experience
"The treatment has been awesome for me. It has kept me alive. Of course, I have a strong belief in the Lord. I take whatever treatment they prescribe, but my main source of strength and hope is Jesus Christ," shares Johnny.
Johnny had some tough days of flu-like illness directly following the treatment, but has had few complications from the CAR T treatment, other than fatigue.
"After a period of 5 or 6 years, the chemo does wear you down, but I have had a high quality of life throughout cancer. The unknown can be scary but we completely trust Dr. Alsina.
"It has been positive. I think for anyone when you lose faith in the treatment, that's when you get in trouble. For me, I knew I trusted in the Lord with all my heart and continued to serve. I never dwelt on any setbacks, kept moving forward, and never stopped my ministry. I always felt like I've still got purpose in life," said Johnny.
Johnny's cancer fight and story has inspired many of his teams in ministry. Treatments have allowed Johnny to keep on helping other people, as he has been for more than 30 years.
"We have been blessed with awesome leaders in these countries that do great work with the supplies, as long as we can get the materials to them."
Johnny has 2 children and 5 active grandchildren who he loves to watch grow up and who often join him on mission trips. This Christmas, Johnny will be celebrating his 75th birthday. He hopes sharing his story will influence others to help those around them.
Jenn extolls, "He is really like a dad and grandad to so many people in so many countries. To have gotten a cancer diagnosis this serious, that hits harder because you know it's going to be a constant fight. But the perspective of knowing research continues to offer more treatments, like CAR T, is such a blessing. And so many people were praying when he got his diagnosis. He is the rock for our family and the missionary leaders in the countries we serve. We are so thankful he has had this opportunity. Because we are blessed, we are able to continue to bless others."
Connect to a Blood Cancer Expert
Moffitt Cancer Center has the largest multiple myeloma program in Florida and is world-renowned for its expertise in tackling this hematologic malignancy. Multiple myeloma remains incurable for roughly 85% of patients, making the challenge of finding new treatments and curative strategies all the more urgent. Moffitt is at the forefront of these discoveries through ongoing research efforts and the provision of cutting-edge therapies to patients in need, such as commercially approved CAR (chimeric antigen receptor) T-cell therapy. To request an appointment call 1-888-663-3488 or complete a new patient registration form online.