ell-known Cave Creek tour guide Johnny Ringo takes a deep breath and softly begins to cry. He’s so grateful for the community’s support since he announced his pancreatic cancer diagnosis.
At the same time, the diagnosis is devastating. Ringo knows one thing, though: He’ll be cancer free by February 15—his 78th birthday.
“Every day I go outside and I thank God I woke up and I’m still living in Cave Creek,” Ringo said. “There’s an Elvis song, ‘One Pair of Hands.’ I sing that every night to try to put me to sleep. I hope I can sleep for an hour. I just can’t sleep.
“I’m in the morning, I sing it again. One day I’m going to make a video of me singing it.”
2020 strikes again
Ringo owns Johnny Ringo’s Carefree Adventures, but COVID-19 put the kibosh on his business the first week of February.
“We had a really good reputation and good business and I had to end it,” he said.
“I work out of my home. Everything is here. I pay a lot of money in insurance, $18,000. My vehicles are sitting here. Everything was covered in a big old canopy. I decided to take the insurance off because I wasn’t using the vehicles and I didn’t know when this pandemic was going to be over.”
The pandemic didn’t end, but something even more destructive happened—the Ocotillo Fire.
“It went through all my outbuildings, my garage, my workshop, all my vehicles, everything,” Ringo said.
“We were surrounded by fire. Thank God for my neighbor, who owns Larson Excavating. He has water trucks and he was watering the whole area to protect his place and a couple other houses. You always wonder what would be the last thing you would take out of your house. I had enough time to run inside the house to take my Johnny Ringo signature hat and my portrait from Gary Longordo. I threw it in the car, and we drove through the fire to get out of here. It was pretty scary.”
Luckily, his house was spared, as was his ’84 Chrysler Le Baron convertible.
“Some of (Larson Excavating’s) workers had the hoses in my patio pushing the fire away from the house,” Ringo recalled. “At the same time, my vehicles are blowing up from the fuel lines. Everything was just a disaster, like bombs going off. All my vehicles are gone. My ’66 VW Riviera camper is gone. I don’t have nothing.”
Then came the pancreatic cancer diagnosis.
‘Your eyes look yellow’
Ringo was pumping gas at Shell when his friend from New Jersey pulled up unexpectedly.
“I said, ‘Frank, how’s it going?’” Ringo recalled. “He doesn’t answer me. He’s just staring at me. He asked if I was feeling OK. I said, ‘Not really, Frank.’ I told him I had pains in my stomach and my urine was dark brown.
“He said, ‘Let me look in your eyes. You’re jaundiced. Come over my house. I’m going to examine you.’ I went over there. He was poking and poking and measuring with his hands. He said my liver was enlarged and he could feel something but couldn’t pinpoint it.”
Ringo went to the emergency room and the doctors performed a CT. When he exited the room, an ambulance was waiting to take him to an HonorHealth medical center.
Exploratory surgery revealed pancreatic cancer, which was squeezing his bile duct. The doctors put in a temporary stent to help the matter.
Ringo was—and is—scared, but it’s tempered by his friend, Frank, and his doctor, who are former colleagues. His doctor invited Ringo to be a part of a clinical trial.
“The No. 1 goal with this trial is to cure cancer and to cure pancreatic cancer,” he said. “This cancer is different than others. From what I hear, it’s deadlier. I ain’t going there.”
Ringo has been tracing his cancer journey since his diagnosis, including his first chemo treatment on September 2, for a documentary. For more information about his video, visit johnnysjourneytobecancerfree.com.
“I’m bringing everybody with me,” he said. “It’s really funny and sad and it’s going to be me, my personality. This is the way I could deal with this. We all deal with our illnesses different than others. This is how I got to do it.”
Ringo has chemotherapy for eight hours a week. When the treatment ends, he has to prepare for Whipple procedure or pancreaticoduodenectomy to remove cancerous tumors off the head of the pancreas.
In the meantime, he’s making chemo fun for everyone in the hospital. Ringo has, what he dubbed, “chemo clothes.”
“I shop at Kiwanis Marketplace in Cave Creek,” he said. “I also found so many of my own outfits from the early days that fit me because I lost 15 pounds. I might wear my Army uniform one day.
“Chemo isn’t fun. It’s not a happy place. Now, when the nurses see me walk in, I make them all smile. I have photos with all the nurses. When I walk in, I say, ‘Here’s Johnny!’ The rebel’s in the house. Everything has a purpose.”
He wants other cancer patients and survivors to understand they’re all siblings. They’re his cancer brothers and sisters. He wants to put smiles on the faces of his brothers and sisters.
“I look at them and they’re all wrapped up,” he said. “They look like cocoons, they’re in blankets. I don’t want to bother anybody. We all deal with our illness in our own way.
“After the first month, patients were asking the nurses if they could talk to me, if it’s OK to give them my phone number. Of course it is. It’s all part of my journey. I believe God put all these things together, divine intervention.”
Ringo said he believes things come in threes—COVID-19, the fire and pancreatic cancer.
“My calling is to be a…” he said, stopping to cry, “a motivational speaker to help other cancer patients. I’m in God’s hands. All the prayers I’ve been getting from all over the world, I am so blessed. I’ve spent 30 years supporting the town of Cave Creek, and they decided it’s time to give back to me. It’s amazing.”