Greg contacted me on May 4, 2011 and he has shared an impressive survivor story. If you have any questions, please visit his site at: http://www.survivorandcaregiver.com/
My name is Greg Cantwell. I was born in Dusseldorf, Germany where I lived for the first 12 years of my life. Then moved to the States where we moved around for a few years then settled down in Potomac, Maryland where I went to high school. After high school I moved to Colorado for College and it was there I landed the job I had been dreaming about since I was a young boy, working in the Airline Industry. I moved around quite a bit again and moved my way up in the industry which took me to California, Colorado again, Virginia, Hawaii, Alaska briefly then back to Hawaii and then to Minnesota where my story starts.
I was 30 years old living in Hawaii with no health issues when I was diagnosed with cancer. I was strong and in good mental and physical condition. On October 28, 2004, my plane had just arrived in Minneapolis, where I would begin my new job with Northwest airlines. I checked into my hotel, went out to eat and went to bed for what I thought would be a good night sleep.
At approximately 11:15pm from what I was told, I awoke, experiencing a grand mal seizure. I couldn't talk, was barely able to breathe, and was conscious but very confused. I was rushed to the emergency room where the doctors asked me all sorts of questions. The questions were “easy” and I knew I knew the answers, but could not come up with them. I was scared. Why could I not answer these easy questions, but everyone else could? I was given a CT scan and next an MRI. Then they said the doctor was calling in a neurologist from home. I thought to myself, “Why?” “This can't be that serious, or can it?”
The neurologist finally arrived and delivered the news no one wants to hear. "Greg you have a brain tumor." Two days later I returned for a biopsy of the tumor. A few days after that, the results were in, it was a Stage IV Glioblastoma. I could tell in the neurologist’s eyes and tone of voice that the chances I would survive were extremely slim. I thought to myself, “Did I hear him right?” “I have a brain tumor?” “Why me?”
That was the only time I ever felt sorry for myself. From that point on I was positive and knew I was going to beat this cancer no matter what the statistics or doctors said. My son was one year old at the time. I thought to myself, “I have to be here for him.” “I want to see him go to school on his first day, play sports, have his first girlfriend, graduate from high school, get married, etc.” “I have to be here for all that and I am not going to die!” I buckled down for the fight of my life.
I met with my oncologist, who explained I had a 5% chance of surviving one year. He gave me three options for treatment. 1. Have surgery but do nothing to aggressively fight the cancer and enjoy the limited time I had left with minimal medical intervention. 2. Have surgery, do minimal radiation and chemotherapy to hopefully extend my life a year or two. 3. Have surgery and go all out to fight this cancer with everything that medicine had to offer. This option would make me the sickest, require many different treatments but would hopefully give me the best chance of long-term survival.
Given this information, I had a lot to think about. On the positive side, I was strong both mentally and physically and had the will to want to beat this. I decided that I would take option three and was scheduled for surgery two weeks later.
I was scared. I had never had any type of surgery before and now I was having a craniotomy. I had no clue what to expect. What would it feel like falling asleep? Would I have complications during surgery? How would I feel when I wake up? Would I remember anything? All these questions and uncertainties!
The big day finally arrived. Scared and with tears in my eyes, my parents and friends said that they would see me when I got out of surgery and I was wheeled down the hallway. I don't remember even getting to the operating room. I was told afterwards that the neurosurgeon told my family and friends that he didn't know what to expect; meaning, would I be able to talk? Feed myself? Walk?
I woke up in ICU and was told that the surgery lasted five hours. The neurosurgeon came in and explained the procedure. He implanted five Gliadel Wafers into the resected tumor site to release direct chemotherapy over a period of time. After a brief recovery from the surgery I went through six weeks of radiation in combination with Timador, an oral chemotherapy drug. After I completed the radiation therapy, I had a couple weeks to rest up before starting my regular chemotherapy regime. Over the next 12 months I went into the hospital for three consecutive nights each month where I would receive two types of chemotherapy back to back Cytoxin and Etoposide, then a rest period, then the same chemotherapy back to back again. The day before my release from the hospital I went to interventional radiology where a catheter was threaded from the artery in my groin up to my brain to release Carboplatin, another chemotherapy drug. This procedure was risky as well (chance of blood clot, infection or stroke) but I knew it would increase my chances of long-term survival.
For the next twelve months family members took turns flying in and staying two weeks at a time to take care of me. After my twelve chemo sessions I was put on a “watch-and-see” status. Textbooks and statistics showed a 100% chance the tumor would grow back. Thank God, to this day, it hasn't. Currently I have MRI's every four months and they have been clear. It has been six years since my diagnosis. I have defied the odds. Thanks to companies like yours that strive to supply the best drugs on the market to help in recovery and give those with many terminal diagnosis who all statistics are against a chance of survival and provide hope and encouragement to those newly diagnosed. There are approximately 70,000 new people between the ages of 18-39 diagnosed with cancer every year. That is 1 every 8 min.
I sincerely believe that in addition to the normal treatment for a Glioblastoma which I received, having a positive attitude throughout my entire treatment, you can’t forget the power’s above in addition to my neurosurgeon implanting 5 Glialdel Waffers into my brain from the start is why I am here today.
When I received the initial diagnosis my wife at the time could not handle the uncertainty, and not the uncertainty of what would happen to me but what would happen to her life. She began pulling away. She wouldn’t drive me to my appointments or to and from the hospital for my treatments. I either drove myself when I was feeling good enough or relied on the American Cancer Society for help. We were eventually divorced in the midst of my recovery. Sure this hurt but I had a more important battle going on. I knew what I had to do and having stress and worry in my life was not an option.
As I think back over the years prior to my diagnosis I remember having Migraines which started in high school. They would only happen 2 or 3 times a year but were extreamly severe. I could tell they were coming on because my tongue would go numb then starting with my finger tips would go numb then all the way up my arms. My sight would then go blurry and I would become affected by the light. In order to feel a little better I would take a hot bath but them become sea sick and begin vomiting. I went to the doctor a number of times and explained the symptoms and was prescribed imitrex. Could this have been the start of the tumor? No one knows even the neurosurgeon didn’t know how long the tumor had been there.
I got remarried in June of 2009 to a wonderful woman who has first hand experiences of dealing with a terminal illness. She herself has Cystic Fibrosis, has had a liver transplant, has diabeties and is on the kidney transplant list. We have a unique bond and take care of eachother in addition to taking care of my almost 8 year old son.
It has been six years since diagnosis. My scans have showed no new tumor activity. I have dedicated my life to helping and educating those going through cancer or caring for someone going through cancer. There is so much that a person like myself can do to help. I volunteer at a number of One on One Cancer Support centers throughout the United States. I started my own website a few months age www.survivorandcaregiver.com which has received over 20,000 hits from as far away as Africa. I invite you all to take a look at it and forward it on to anyone you know.
This is my story and “I am winning the fight of my life!”
Stage IV Glioblastoma Survivor & Caregiver
Winning The Fight of Your Life!
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