ROCKINGHAM — Jonathan Hernandez should not be alive, according to prognoses doctors have made since his diagnosis with a rare form of cancer in 2010.
Hernandez, now 21, has battled metastatic osteosarcoma for six years.
“Usually this cancer goes really fast,” Hernandez said. “Normally, without chemotherapy, a patient could live between four to six months, and with chemotherapy it would have been a year to a year and a half. I was going to die. No one has survived.”
Osteosarcoma is a bone cancer that spread to Hernandez’s lungs. His mother, Diana Janica, said she and her husband, Pablo Hernandez, did not know what could be done to save their son after learning of his condition.
“He was 15 years old when that happened,” she said. “We didn’t know what to do, where to go. He had a 20 percent chance to survive. They did the chemo and the open chest, and they couldn’t do anything for him.”
Janica said as they were driving home that night, she and her husband turned to God and asked to be shown the way through.
“That night, his father told him when he went to sleep, ‘We love you, but we love God more,’” Janica said. “We did not sleep. We stayed up all night praying. The next days were a miracle.”
Janica said a series of connections opened before the family, linking them with a naturopath and sending them on a quest for a cure.
“Because this was the worst case scenario, Jonathan had to go with the Gerson therapy” she explained.
The San Diego-based Gerson Institute and Cancer Curing Society, whose motto is “Healing with Nature,” promotes a diet of pure, organic fruits and vegetables it claims can “restore the body’s incredible ability to heal itself,” according to a brochure.
Components of the therapy include diet, juices, detoxification, medications and supplements, and rest.
“I was too weak for the chemotherapy,” Jonathan Hernandez said. “Since the Gerson therapy, basically, the lesions in my lungs have stayed the same.”
“He has 18 lesions,” Janica said. “With 18 lesions, nobody survives this type of cancer.”
Jonathan Hernandez has a large tumor on his right leg that he said has grown a little larger, but his most recent trip to Chapel Hill left him and his family with ongoing hope.
“In June, everything is the same,” he said. “It’s very slow, the progression of the tumor. The therapy has slowed it down. The reason it has been growing is there are some mutations in my DNA that make my body heal slower.
“I am going to a geneticist, and right now she is giving me some supplements to help me heal faster,” he continued. “One helps to absorb fats better, since cancer patients have difficulty absorbing fats. Right now, my mother says she can see the tumor decreasing a little bit. It takes time, but it’s working.”
Jonathan Hernandez said the Gerson treatment is not only for osteosarcoma, but for many types of cancer and other diseases.
“We get the organic produce he needs from The Fresh Market, Lowes Foods, Harris Teeter and Nature’s Way in Moore County,” Janica said. “Those are the places that have the produce he needs. We have asked Walmart here to add organic produce, and there is a little of it, but not enough.”
She said sugar, fat and salt feed the cancer, as do processed foods and produce treated with pesticides.
“I feel fine right now,” Jonathan Hernandez said. “Something good is I’ve started college online, since I cannot leave the house so much. I am taking half the load. I have been able to do everything. Some days I don’t feel too good, but usually I feel fine. I’ve been able to finish the homework on time, and even before the deadline.”
He said he is enrolled at Moody Bible Institute and working on an associate’s degree in Biblical studies. After that, he plans to go to pre-med and then on to med school and become a doctor.
“He wants to become a medical missionary doctor,” Janica said. “And people like him that could die, he wants them to see that they don’t have to die. The treatment he is working with now, the geneticist and naturopath are working.”
Missionary work is what brought the family to the United States many years ago, she said. Pablo Hernandez, a minister, and the small family envisioned themselves traveling not only to Janica’s native South America but to Mexico, Africa and other countries.
“In Richmond County Schools through the exchange student program, we were supposed to be ready to move on to another country,” she explained. “But the doctors said, ‘You move, he dies.’ So all the people of Richmond County Schools and people in the community pulled together to help us so we could stay here.”
Janica said the family is grateful to the people of Richmond County.
“The way this community has helped us has been a blessing,” she said. “Our friends and churches have helped pay for this treatment. It is a miracle. It’s from God.”
She said Marshall Berry and Pat Britt of the former Rockingham restaurant Pat’s Kitchen have held numerous fundraisers for her son throughout his illness. She also thanked Roberdel Baptist Church, First United Methodist Church of Rockingham, “all of the big churches,” Betty Brigman, Susanne McInnis, The Christian Closet, Christy Ransom and all of their neighbors and everyone else in the county for all they do.
“He wants to be a missionary, but he wants to come back to this county, to Richmond County, and do something for the people here,” Janica said. “The Lord has a plan here. There’s good people here and the Lord has been so good to us.”
Jonathan Hernandez said his survival has baffled the medical professionals he sees.
“Even the doctor in Chapel Hill, which is the best university hospital in the world to treat children’s cancer,” he said. “My doctor is so amazed. When I go now, he only takes notes. He is amazed. He only sits down, and he used to say I needed surgery or chemotherapy. After three years, he stopped offering that and he just takes notes and is amazed.”
He said people like Britt and Marshall, and the others who have helped him, are crazy — but in a good way.
“I want to be crazy like them, too,” he said. “Because in order to give without waiting to have something in return, people call it crazy. That’s what I want to be.”
“They set an example for us, the people of this community,” Janica said. “When this is over, we want to give back and to help people the same way. Sometimes, we don’t know where the money we need will come from — and then, a check will appear. Someone will come and say, ‘Here, this is for Jonathan,’ and we say, ‘Okay! Okay! Thank you, Lord.”
Jonathan Hernandez is not afraid of what the future holds, he said, but hopes to move on with his education and career.
“I am not scared of dying, because I know I will go to Heaven and I will be better there,” he said. “But I don’t want to die, because I want to do what God wants me to do here first. I’m not giving up anytime soon.”
Reach reporter Melonie McLaurin at 910-817-2673 and follow her on Twitter @meloniemclaurin.