Local cancer survivor surprised by friends, family, and 2-dozen strangers
A Central Texas man given little hope to survive not only beat stage 3 pancreatic cancer, but rang in the bell in front of friends, youth players he coaches and nearly two-dozen motorcycle riders whom had never met him before.
Jimmy Ayala, 47, rang the bell signifying the end of treatment in the parking lot of Texas Oncology in Waco Wednesday afternoon following his 12th and final chemo treatment after being diagnosed in July 2019.
"This has been a miracle journey," Ayala said.
"Obviously stage 3 pancreatic cancer, the outcome's not always positive but we've beat it."
Ayala was diagnosed after seeing a doctor when he became jaundiced.
After undergoing the surgery at Houston Methodist which led to the diagnosis, doctors determined it was advanced.
Ayala said they told him they were sending him home where doctors in Waco "could make him as comfortable as possible."
But just as he was packing up his bags in the hospital, he got an unexpected call which likely saved his life.
"I'm packing up the room thinking I'm headed home and I got a phone call from the GI surgeon and he said 'they are on their way to get you discharged. Don't sign the papers. I'm on the way to your room.' He refused to sign the papers. He walked in the room and he said 'we've talked to some other surgeons and you're a prime candidate for a Whipple procedure.’"
Jimmy fell into a small group of candidates with no underlying conditions eligible for the Whipple procedure, also known as a pancreaticoduodenectom, which is a complex operation to remove the head of the pancreas, the first part of the small intestine, the gallbladder and the bile duct.
The surgery was successful and after a 38-day stay in the Houston hospital he returned to Waco where he would start his rounds of chemotherapy.
Since then, the "happy go lucky" business owner has defied all odds and never missed a day of work even as the owner of Ayala Home Services.
"They told me I'd lose my hair, I'd lose weight and these are the things you're going to have and I had nothing. Even doctors can't understand it" he said, smiling.
When Ayala walked out of Texas Oncology Wednesday afternoon he was surprised by family members, friends, players from his 11U Buzz Lighting Baseball team and nearly two-dozen bikers many of whom had never met him, but who drove hours to be there.
Ayala doesn't ride motorcycles, but his best friend John Scales, who has supported him every step of the way, is part of the Wind Therapy Freedom Riders group.
"Jimmy is my best friend and I have been fighting this fight with him the whole way," Scales said.
The president of Scales’ chapter, it turns out, had lost a brother to pancreatic cancer.
Riders from the Independent Law Enforcement Motorcycle Club from Troy turned out, too, and so did Scales’ buddies from the Waco chapter.
"They came up to me and said they burned a vacation day to be there and that they wouldn't have missed it. I was speechless," Ayala said.
The gesture left Ayala in tears.
He has no trace of cancer left and is feeling great though he has been told he may eventually be diabetic as a result of the Whipple surgery.
Jimmy says he's thankful for friends and strangers who turned out to support him as he celebrated life.
"Thank you for the support and the prayers and all the positive vibes everyone spent my way. I look forward to the time I got. Every day is a blessing," he said.