Brevard man's cancer battle gives fellow veterans a message of strength, hope

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Johnny Martinez, our Person of the Week, has been a fixture visiting vets at local nursing homes but slowed down recently because of his health. (Photo credit: WLOS staff)

After his long battle with cancer, a Brevard man who calls himself a living miracle says he's ready to return to a cause close to his heart.

"And no matter what they tell you, go forward," says Johnny, a Vietnam veteran.

He says Agent Orange used during the war caused his cancer.

Johnny, our Person of the Week, has been a fixture visiting vets at local nursing homes, but slowed down recently because of his health.

He was diagnosed with Stage 4 liver cancer, and recently forced himself to slow down, unable to meet with as many of America's heroes as he'd like.

"I was kind of scared and concerned," Martinez told News 13. "'Cause I know they bring a lot to me as I brought cheer into their life."

The man who was twice missing in action is as tough as they come.

Recently, Martinez got the news he still finds hard to believe.

"I mean, I kept bugging them. Are you sure you got the right name? The right Social Security number and all, you know? And three times he confirmed yes, you're clean," he said.

Finally, the two words he waited years to hear: cancer-free.

"And I just broke down," he said. "It's the work of God and faith."

That news now opens the door for another miracle-worker. He introduced us to a boxer named Ranger, a service dog in training.

"I want to continue the veteran visits and take him along," Martinez explained.

We first profiled Martinez two years ago, following him as he made his rounds. For men and women who've served our country, there's an unspoken bond.

"And a lot of times, a veteran would open up to a veteran more than they'd open up to their family," he told us in 2017. "So, I tell them I'm not a psychiatrist nor a psychologist, but I've been there. I know what it's like."

For almost a decade, he sat down with fellow vets every week at homes and hospitals. Over the course of a decade meeting with America's heroes, he learned simply listening is a powerful thing.

"It's something people really don't talk about. They don't realize what you guys went through," he once told two vets.

Soon Johnny and Ranger will team up to give veterans companionship. As a veteran of both war and cancer, Martinez has a compelling message of strength.

"It's a miracle that I'm clean," he says.

"Any illness you're going through, don't stop the fight," he said, speaking directly to vets. "Keep fighting, believe in something. Wake up each day with a passion to do something."