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Beer ambassador survives stage 3 cancer — and has a brew made in his honor

After a terminal cancer diagnosis, Goose Island's Jonny Coffman wanted to leave a unique legacy.

Jonny Coffman may have "hated" beer early in life, but when he moved to Chicago and discovered craft beer, he changed his mind entirely, deciding he loved the beverage and eventually landing a job as a brand ambassador for Goose Island Beer Company.

But things quickly changed when Coffman was diagnosed with stage 3 melanoma in December 2015, his second bout with the illness after first being diagnosed in 2011.

"It was December 1, 2015, I'd had a lump in my neck, they did the biopsy, (and) they were like, 'OK, Mr. Coffman, this is stage 3b melanoma," Coffman explained to TODAY's Dylan Dreyer. "I'm like, 'You gotta have the wrong guy."

Coffman hated beer until trying a craft beer that changed his entire career path.
Coffman hated beer until trying a craft beer that changed his entire career path. Ben Coffman

After undergoing treatment, the cancer came back for a third time in March 2016. This time, Coffman was treated with radiation, and lost his sense of taste until one special morning.

"It was one of the best days of my life," Coffman said. "It was cinnamon oatmeal. (I) dove in to take a bite, and almost dropped the bowl. I can taste the juiciness from the mango and the spiciness of the cinnamon. I probably woke up the neighbors I was yelling so hard."

Despite the steps forward, Coffman's excitement was short-lived: Less than a year later, he was told that his cancer had returned.

"(The doctor was) like, 'So the cancer has spread, it's in your bloodstream, it's in your organs, it's everywhere. This is what terminal cancer looks like,'" said Coffman, who was given three to 12 months to live at the time. "My dad picked me up that day, (and) I could see him fighting back tears."

Coffman said he had no idea how to explain the news to other family members, like his mother and twin brother.

"I hated the fact that this was happening to me," Coffman said. "I wanted to live my life, and I couldn't."

While the news was heartbreaking, Coffman was determined not to let it stop him. He spent 2018 traveling the world, returning to Chicago every three weeks for a new cancer treatment.

While in Chicago, he decided to try something unique.

"I approached Keith Gabbett, the brewmaster at Goose (Island Beer Company) and I was like, 'Hey, listen, some people want a tombstone; I want a beer,'" Coffman said. "And Keith was like, 'We're going to do it.'"

The plan worked: The company developed "Lost Palate," a beer described as a hazy IPA with mango and cinnamon — a nod to the first flavors Coffman was able to taste after his radiation treatment in 2016. Meant to be a one-time, limited release, it's now being sold nationally.

Coffman travelled the world while undergoing treatment.
Coffman travelled the world while undergoing treatment. Ben Coffman

"I wanted something for people to remember me by," he continued. "I wanted there to be something that I left behind that meant something."

And then, in 2019, something even more unexpected happened: Coffman was declared cancer-free.

"My doctor came in and she just looked like she had seen a ghost, but she had this smile on her face," Coffman said. "And she just looked at me and she's like, 'It's all gone. All of it.' And she was like, 'We can't find any remains, any remnants of any cancer anywhere in your body.'"

For nearly two years, Coffman has been cancer-free, which he attributes to a positive attitude and a strong circle of support, as well as the treatment he underwent.

"If you just sit around and you dwell, it's not going to do it," he said. "And that's not just with cancer, that's just with anything in life. So I attribute it to positive mental attitude, family, friends, maybe the Keytruda (treatment) worked. I don't know. I'm just very, very thankful that it's gone. And to be honest, I'm sure it was a culmination of all those things together."