The grantee reflects on his grandfather’s mesothelioma journey

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reading time: 3 minutes

Release date: 12/12/2022

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Ella Savage is enrolled in the Animal and Veterinary Sciences program at Clemson University and plans to attend veterinary school after completing her undergraduate degree. She is the first place winner Autumn 2022 Asbestos.com Scholarship.

It was October 1992 when my grandfather’s doctor diagnosed him with peritoneal mesothelioma, an incurable asbestos-related cancer that develops in the lining of the abdomen.

“Sandy, I don’t think you’ll be here to see Christmas,” the doctor said to my grandfather. “I would settle my affairs if I were you.”

My grandfather’s exposure to asbestos may have happened as a young man on a military ship bound for Europe. He slept in a bunk bed under a heat vent, and records show that heat vents on these older ships were usually wrapped in insulation containing asbestos.

Although the typical life expectancy for most mesothelioma patients is around 12-24 months after diagnosis, my grandfather was given two months. Amazingly, Sandy exceeded expectations.

dr Paul Sugarbaker offers hope

When Greypop, as we affectionately call my grandfather Sandy, was first diagnosed in 1992, he and his wife rented a sailboat for several weeks and sailed around St. Martin.

After their Caribbean trip, he was ready to fight his cancer. Several doctors evaluated Greypop and recommended surgery and chemotherapy. However, he writes the work of Dr. Paul Sugarbaker for saving his life. Sugarbaker said to my grandfather, “We don’t know how to cure this type of cancer. My goal is to keep you alive long enough until we find a breakthrough treatment or cure.” And that’s how it started.

Extensive operation gives “Greypop” 30 more years

According to my grandfather, Sugarbaker performed extensive surgery in 1993 to remove affected tissue. The operation lasted 15-16 hours. He also participated in a type of chemotherapy known as the Sugarbaker procedure.

This treatment protocol combines traditional surgery with hyperthermic intraperitoneal chemotherapy, or HIPEC, also known as heated chemotherapy. This therapy has prolonged the life of cancer patients and it prolonged my grandfather’s life.

We celebrated Greypop’s 90th birthday this August. And as of October, he’s lived 30 years past his two-month forecast. In these three decades he has traveled around the world. He could see his grandchildren go to college, get married, and have children of their own. He still flies his own plane.

These 30 years have been a gift to him and to all who love him. Thanks to caring, knowledgeable doctors like Sugarbaker, groundbreaking mesothelioma treatments, and Greypop’s desire to beat all odds, my grandfather continues to have an incredible life. There are many lessons for all of us.

Those who have been diagnosed with mesothelioma need to know that there is always hope. Two months can turn into 30 years. Find the right doctor who finds the right treatment plan. Find a doctor with a passion for saving lives that matches your desire to beat your cancer.

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