Espino lives in Monterey Park, a Los Angeles suburb, and grew up in East L.A. The neighborhood was tough, but he made it through and graduated. Eventually he opened his own business, a pallet yard, where he had 64 employees. His son took over the family business and Espino retired.
When Espino was 47, everything changed. His doctor told him his prostate-specific Antigen (PSA) levels were high. High levels of PSA, a protein produced in the prostate gland, often indicate prostate cancer.
Espino had surgery to treat his cancer, but seven years later, it came back. This time, doctors removed his bladder and gave him 50 radiation treatments.
“They gave me a drug called Lupron. It’s worked up until this date,” says Espino. “But shortly after I started taking Lupron, that’s when the problems started with my blood disorder.” He was given a chemotherapy drug, Vidaza, which he took for eight years. Then, eventually, it stopped working.
“The doctor told me at the very beginning: this is not a cure-all,” he explains. “This is only going to extend your life.”
Taking a chance
Espino was one of 30 people accepted into a clinical trial where he was given two drugs, Guadecitabine and Atezolizumab. At the start of the trial, he was receiving blood transfusions, which made it hard for him to breathe, and his blood counts were low. Before his third treatment, he took a blood test and his counts were, shockingly, normal.
“It’s working,” says Espino. That made him an enthusiastic advocate for clinical research.
“We need to keep this program going. It’s not just me,” he says, noting his doctor has said she could have saved more lives if she’d had the medicine sooner. Espino’s friend, who potentially could have taken the same medicine as Espino was, died before the drug was available. “You never know what’s coming up: something bigger and better down the line,” says Espino.
Hopeful for the future
With his son heading the family business, Espino is enjoying life again. He gardens, walks his dog every morning and enjoys spending time at the race track. Most of all, he’s hopeful about his future and the future of cancer care.
He also encourages fellow cancer patients to enroll in clinical trials. “They’re always coming up with improved methods or treatments,” he says.