David Lopez, former city councilor, battling brain cancer


After nine months of battling brain cancer, David Lopez, a former Belen city councilor, has received uplifting news.

An MRI revealed last week no recurrence of the cancer cells, which created a malignant tumor in Lopez’s cerebellum, after six weeks of radiation therapy.

Abigail R. Ortiz-News-Bulletin photo: Ruth and David Lopez, who is battling brain cancer, are hopeful for his recovery.

Although these results are promising, Lopez will undergo chemotherapy in August “to make sure everything is gone and killed,” said Ruth, Lopez’s wife.

With Ruth, a hairstylist at A Perfect Look in Belen, being the sole supporter, this battle has come with a hefty price tag — one the couple is trying to combat with fundraisers to pay for Lopez’s mounting medical expenses.

“Thank God for family and friends. Everybody in Belen has been so good to us,” Ruth said. “You wouldn’t even believe.”

Two upcoming benefits include a dinner, dance, silent auction and raffle ticket drawing at the Valencia County Sheriff’s Posse Grounds in Belen from 4 to 8 p.m., Saturday, July 21, and a four-man scramble golf tournament at 1 p.m., Saturday, Aug. 11, at the Tierra del Sol Golf Course Rio Communities.

The 42-year-old Lopez wasn’t feeling quite well when he came home from work on an autumn day in September. Although he was tired and off balance, he ignored the symptoms until they overwhelmed him.

“I started feeling sick and then I got sicker and sicker,” David said.

The day he couldn’t physically get out of bed is when the couple rushed the Belen native to the University of New Mexico Hospital’s emergency room. X-rays revealed Lopez had hydrocephalus, a pocket of cerebrospinal fluid, accumulating in Lopez’s brain, and a small tumor lodged in his cerebellum, or medulloblastoma.

Medulloblastoma is the most common primitive neuroectodermal tumor originating in the brain, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine website. This type of tumor, rarely found in adults, grows quickly and can spread through cerebrospinal fluid to other locations in the brain and spine.

Doctors drained the water collecting in Lopez’s brain one month later, but noticed the tumor, showing up as a small dark spot in x-rays, had doubled in size. The tumor had grown from a half inch to an inch.

“(The doctors) had seen this spot before, but they were just watching it to make sure it didn’t grow, and it doubled in size in that little bit of time from the emergency room to when they did the first surgery,” Ruth said.

Upon removing the tumor in February, doctors discovered the tumor was malignant.

Although it was a shock to learn Lopez had brain cancer, the couple knew that Lopez would pull through and defeat cancer like Ruth did.

The 52-year-old faced a similar battle five years ago when she found a lump in her left breast while crossing her arms over her chest.

“I say God made me find it, because that’s how I found mine,” she said.

A biopsy revealed the tumor, removed through a lumpectomy, was malignant. Ruth followed up with six weeks of radiation therapy and six sessions of chemotherapy.

“I pulled through mine and he’s going to do the same,” she said.

The former two-term city councilor underwent radiation therapies spanning five days a week for six weeks beginning in May. Since the medulloblastoma was located in Lopez’s cerebellum, doctors focused the radiation where the tumor was removed from and down the length of Lopez’s spine.

“It did a job on him and knocked him out,” she said.

Lopez, who began his first term on the council in 2003, continued working as a technologist at Sandia National Laboratories, but was forced to quit when the radiation drained his energy and dragged along with it other physical problems.

The therapy caused Lopez to have a low, raspy voice and suffer from brain swelling and seizures, but Ruth said it’s the lack of energy that Lopez struggles with the most.

Brain cancer turned the couple’s world upside down in less than a year. In that time, Lopez had to quit his job and pick up the full-time position of fighting cancer while Ruth became his sole caregiver and provider.

Through Lopez’s battle, the couple, married for 14 years, has reminded one another of one thing.

“God will be with us and he’ll pull us through,” Ruth said with a cracked voice and tears building up in her eyes.

More than anything, the two can’t wait to get back to their normal lives, which include family vacations and Lopez working in the labs.

“He’s very strong and he will pull through this,” she said.

The couple’s children are Max and Marisa, who passed away at birth, and Ruth’s children are Stephanie, Jessica and Rudy.

-- Email the author at aortiz@news-bulletin.com.