MODESTO -- A beloved Sacramento bartender is making miraculous progress in his fight against an inoperable brain tumor.
Joe Stanley had been a bartender at Vito's and Tres Hermanas in Midtown Sacramento for years, when he was diagnosed with brain cancer in the fall of 2015. Doctors told him they could not operate because of the tumor's location on his brain stem. He became so weak so quickly that he had to stop working almost immediately.
"Some days I wish I could just go to work and go home. Just the little things, you take for granted," Joe Stanley said.
Stanley soon lost the ability to eat solid food and to drink water. He couldn't walk on his own, and eventually needed a tracheotomy and a ventilator to breathe. He also became paralyzed on the left side of his body.
"You'd be surprised how quick you lose it," Stanley said.
He said 6 months ago a doctor at a different hospital told him that he would likely not get any better, and advised him to prepare his friends and family for the worst.
But Stanley disagreed.
"The way I look at it is, I don't have much choice. There's only one way to get better, and that's staying positive. I can get up everyday and focus on brain cancer, or I can get up and move forward," Stanley said.
Stanley soon after found an opening at the long term acute care facility, Central Valley Specialty Hospital in Modesto. He has since been working tirelessly with physical therapists to build strength on the left side of his body. Five days a week, he visits the hospital gym and does routine exercises to improve his fine motor skills. He is eating solid food again, drinking water, is breathing on his own, and is re-learning how to walk. In two to three months he has progressed from walking between parallel bars, to walking with a walker.
"I have made a lot of progress since I've been here. It's slower than I was hoping, but it's progress. So I'm very thankful for this place," Stanley said.
And there's more.
Since Stanley became well enough to have chemotherapy once every other week, his tumor shrunk.
"It shrunk by like one centimeter," Stanley said.
Stanley said his last MRI showed that his brain tumor shrunk from 4 centimeters in size to 3 centimeters.
Doctors say they can't quite pinpoint what sparked his progress.
"It's, you know, it's a bad tumor," Dr. Vance Roget said.
Roget is the Medical Director at Central Valley Specialty Hospital. He says vpeople with the type of tumor Stanley has usually do not have a high rate of survival beyond five years, but that advances in medicine and treatment keep improving their odds.
"But he keeps improving, and so we don't know, we don't assume that things aren't gonna go well, or that things are gonna go well. But if we have that hope, we can plan for the best, and see what happens," Dr. Roget said.
Roget said that, especially with cancer patients who come into a hospital with little physical strength, exercise proved to be the best medicine. He said that the encouragement Stanley was receiving from his physical therapists, and the hope he was getting from making big strides was undoubtedly helping his condition improve.
"When my friends visit me, the love they have for me, it definitely encourages me to stay motivated and keep at it and everything," Stanley said.
Stanley said when he is able to walk again without assistance, he plans on going to live with his parents in Lodi.
When he is a little more independent, he plans on moving back to Midtown on his own.
He said he would love to get his old jobs back.