At the age of twenty-four, Justin Ozuna became a first in his family – the first to be diagnosed with cancer, specifically CML. It was January 2006 and he was living in Wichita Falls, Texas. Justin says, “CML has impacted my life in a number of different ways. As a young adult living with cancer, my life has been interrupted for seven years.”
That seven year interruption began with a trip to Houston, Texas to receive treatment at MD Anderson Cancer Center. Each trip to see his doctor was a 12 hour roundtrip drive from his home in Wichita Falls. As time passed, he relocated to the Dallas area and continued his treatment at UT Southwestern Medical Center. While in treatment there, he discovered that he was not responding to treatment because he had developed a mutation, the t315i mutation. As he contemplated next steps, he chose to return to Houston for further testing. A second test proved inconclusive and he began treatment with a second-generation drug.
After six months on the new therapy he one again found his CML becoming more and more difficult to control. A third test accurately confirmed presence of the t315i mutation and he made preparations to enter a clinical trial for one of several experimental therapies. The first trial drug he tried had been helpful in some patients but it was not to be so for Justin. Side effects and other issues made it an unsuitable option.
With a bone marrow transplant imminent and his options waning, he began contemplating next steps. The only alternative to a transplant was to try to get into an already closed trial for a drug that had yet to be approved by the FDA. That drug was Ponatinib, and many were finding it successful in treating their CML. “Our only hope was to apply for compassionate use. A month later, I was granted use of the drug, and in October of 2012, after six months of treatment, I reached a complete molecular response.”
Today, Justin is back in school studying emerging media and communications and in the future he hopes his career will help him do more to help others on a cancer journey. He is already using his writing skills ot help others through social media, including Twitter, Tumbler, Facebook, his blog, the Ozunaverse http://theozunaverse.com and as a frequent contributor to the MD Anderson Cancer Center blog.http://www2.mdanderson.org/cancerwise/2012/10/chronic-myeloid-leukemia-survivor-life-after.html or http://www2.mdanderson.org/cancerwise
In the fall of 2013, Justin will marry his fiancee and the love of his life, Katie. “I often feel like the best part of overcoming cancer is the realization that I get to marry my best friend,” Ozuna shares, “After seven years of fighting CML, I’m ready to finally begin living the rest of my life.”
Justin Ozuna lives in Dallas and is a Texas state representative and Dallas/Fort Worth connection facilitator for the National CML Society and a patient at MD Anderson Cancer Center.