From OHC, Specialists in the Treatment of Adult Cancers and Blood Disorders

March 28, 2023

At age 47, Tom Gornall had a great job, loved playing golf, and was enjoying life with his wife and childhood sweetheart, Sabrina. About five years ago, his nighttime routine took a scary turn when he urinated blood and told Sabrina he needed to get to the emergency room.

Emergency room providers could not find anything wrong and reported that Tom had normal kidney function. They recommended he consult his doctor. Tom’s doctor ordered an ultrasound that revealed his entire left kidney was covered with a nine-to-ten-centimeter tumor. Tom had renal cell carcinoma, the most common type of kidney cancer. Without surgery to remove it, Tom would live only six months. His doctor referred him to a urologist, Dr. Aaron Bey, who successfully performed the surgery and referred Tom to OHC medical oncologist and hematologist Mark E. Johns, MD.

“My mom had been an oncology nurse for 45 years in northern Ohio,” said Tom. “She spoke to all of her contacts in the field and learned a lot about Dr. Johns. I was very confident in my doctor’s recommendation to see him.”

Dr. Johns ordered a CT scan that showed Tom’s cancer had spread to his left lung. “It’s not uncommon for patients with Tom’s type of cancer, clear cell renal cell carcinoma, to experience metastases to the lungs, bones, lymph nodes, liver, and adrenal glands,” said Dr. Johns. He referred Tom to a cardiothoracic surgeon, Dr. Mohi Mitiek, to perform a segmentectomy to surgically remove the cancerous portion of the left lung lobe. “Dr. Johns said I was the perfect candidate for a clinical trial,” said Tom. “I had to be medically cancer-free before going on the trial,” he added.

“The KEYNOTE-564 trial was seeking FDA approval for pembrolizumab (Keytruda) for patients with clear cell renal cell carcinoma who had surgery to remove all or part of a kidney,” said Dr. Johns. “Surgery had been the standard of care for these patients, and nearly half of them experienced disease recurrence after surgery, which significantly reduces life expectancy.”

“Dr. Johns did all he could to get me on the trial,” said Tom. “At first, I was hesitant, but my mom knew a lot about clinical trials, and I did my research. I knew I’d be monitored very closely and if I had a lot of side effects, I could get off the trial immediately.”

Tom enrolled in the trial in June 2018. “It was a double-blind study, so I wasn’t sure if I was getting the study drug or the already approved standard treatment, but I believe I did,” said Tom. Tom had 17 injections over the course of 54 weeks. “During that entire time, I never had a single spot of cancer show up on my scans,” said Tom. “Within eight weeks of finishing the trial, I had spots on my lungs again.” Dr. Johns recommended that Tom be treated with radiation under the care of OHC radiation oncologist Joseph N. Shaughnessy, MD.

“Dr. Johns had anticipated that the cancer would recur in my lungs,” said Tom. “He described my radiation treatment regimen as playing a game of whac-a-mole with the spots on my lung. I’ve always been a glass-half-full kind of guy, so I give myself one pity day to feel sorry for myself after I get bad news, and then I move on and do what I need to do to fight.”

Dr. Shaughnessy treated Tom with stereotactic body radiation therapy (SBRT), a type of radiation that delivers the therapy precisely to the tumor cells. He completed his radiation treatments at the end of last month and will continue to be monitored by Dr. Shaughnessy.

As a result of the KEYNOTE-564 trial, Keytruda received FDA approval. “You hear the ‘C’ word, and you’re going to get sad,” said Tom. “You’re the master of your surroundings, and every day I wake up thinking it could be the best day of my life. I’m glad I participated in a trial that got a drug FDA approved for others.”

Tom continues to enjoy the simple things in life, especially dinners with Sabrina and time on the golf course. He recommends OHC to anyone diagnosed with cancer. “They really went to bat for me to get me on the trial. When the cancer in my lung was growing, Dr. Johns presented his opinion and data to his colleagues to let them evaluate and see if their opinions aligned. It was doctors sharing ideas and using data. I like that Dr. Johns did it that way.”

This National Kidney Cancer Awareness Month, OHC’s cancer experts remind you to pay attention to unusual symptoms and report them to your doctor. Early cancer detection typically leads to better outcomes.

OHC’s multidisciplinary team of cancer specialists collaborate on patient care to develop personalized treatment plans of care. For more information on the team or to request a second opinion, call 1-888-649-4800 or visit

Top photo: OHC patient Thomas Gornall, Jr. (left), and his father, Thomas Gornall, Sr., shared a special bond. Sadly, Tom’s father lost his battle with cancer shortly after Tom received his cancer diagnosis.

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