Mesothelioma Survivor Leaving a Lifelong Legacy
John Stathas came into this world to help others.
He wants to leave that way, too.
Stathas, 78, is a pleural mesothelioma survivor who long ago dedicated his life to improving the lives of those around him, touching so many along the way.
“I think, ultimately, that’s what he wants his legacy to be: The positive impact he has left on his family and all those he has helped,” daughter Brittany Dixon said. “He still loves today seeing those he has impacted become a success. He still wants to inspire others.”
Stathas and Sherry, his wife of 42 years, live in Greensboro, Georgia, where he continues his work as a private-practice psychotherapist, guiding others through emotional and mental health matters and concerns.
He is a licensed marriage and family therapist who also writes an engaging weekly column about life-changing issues for three publications, including the Greensboro Herald Journal.
No Fear of Dying
Stathas was diagnosed almost three years ago with stage 4 disease and told he had six to 16 months to live. His decline is underway and his pace has slowed considerably, but he has no intention of changing his tune.
A cancer with no cure may kill him, but it never will break his spirit.
“At this stage, I’m ready to die, and I have no fear of it. I’m ready for the inevitable. I’ve had an awesome life and an incredible family and I’m grateful for that,” he said. “If I can be a role model for them, and for others around me, I will gladly take it to the end.”
He has been there for others so many times before.
Stathas Believes in Making a Difference
Stathas grew up in the Green Bay, Wisconsin, area. After college he spent five years in the seminary studying to become a Roman Catholic priest, a calling he once embraced but left after a few years.
“Growing up in Green Bay, everyone is a [NFL] Packers fan and a Catholic. I couldn’t make the team, so I became a priest,” he joked. “But after a few years I no longer believed certain things I was called upon to preach and celibacy wasn’t my calling.”
The Catholic Church first brought him to Georgia where he met, and marched alongside, civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.
He marched again with King in Chicago, where they protested housing discrimination in 1966. They made national news when they were stoned by an angry mob.
Stathas also was part of a Vietnam War protest in the early ’70s.
“I’ve always wanted to make a difference in the world,” he said. “I’m a ’60s idealist with passion and a purpose. I’m an individualist, but I really do want to impact people wherever I can and still be who I am.”
Diagnosis Was Heartbreaking
Stathas’ battle with mesothelioma began in 2017, a rude awakening for an athletic, young-looking man in his 70s.
He had run a 26-mile marathon in his younger days. He excelled at tennis throughout his life.
Twenty-mile bike rides were common at an age when others had already retired. He lives on a lake today, and boating remains one of his passions.
“I was always in good shape, but my breathing just got difficult, and obviously something was wrong,” he said. “The diagnosis was heartbreaking for my family, but I’ve been luckier than most, living such a non-deterred life. The hardest thing for me now, quite frankly, is seeing the pain in the eyes of my family.”
He met with legendary mesothelioma specialist Dr. David Sugarbaker at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston after his diagnosis, but his cancer already was too advanced for surgery. It had spread from his chest to his abdomen.
A combination of chemotherapy and immunotherapy didn’t stop it and caused debilitating side effects.
Gratitude and Positive Attitude Help
Today, Stathas is again taking the immunotherapy drug Keytruda (pembrolizumab) along with a wide range of alternative supplements, including turmeric, high-dose vitamin C, beta glucan, grape extract, CBD oil and THC oil.
Stathas uses an infrared sauna. He believes a positive attitude helps considerably, and that showing gratitude translates into physical well-being.
“I’ll throw the kitchen sink at this if I think it will help,” he said. “But honestly, it’s tough to know exactly what’s helping and what isn’t.”
Fatigue is a regular problem. The daily nausea is getting worse, although it remains manageable. He still sees patients two days a week.
“People will call and say, ‘Are you still practicing?’ In this small community, people know and really care, but it’s not about me. It’s the personal interaction,” he said. “I am vulnerable to them, and them to me. It can make for effective therapy.”
His latest book – “A Successful Life, Guaranteed!” – focuses on personal and relationship fulfillment. In it he shares insights from decades of counseling patients.
One of his recent weekly columns was entitled “Gaining Confidence: Finding your Voice,” written to help those with self-esteem issues become leaders through behavior modification.
“He really gets a lot of fulfillment from helping others,” Brittany said. “His focus, with our family, was always on doing good for others and I don’t think that ever changed for him.”
Making Family Memories
He and Sherry traveled to Florida recently to watch his Atlanta Braves in baseball spring training.
They drove to Charlotte, North Carolina, last month to see Brittany and her young family. They visit often with his son’s family, too. Sherry has been alongside him every step of the way.
“I get moments of sadness, but I don’t get depressed or anxious about all this,” Stathas said. “All things considered, I’m in a really good place. Sherry has been so unbelievably supportive.”
The four young grandchildren (two from each of his children) call him Papa John. He laughs when he tells them he was the one who started the pizza franchise.
“I have no stress in my life today. How could I? The things that are most important to me are going so incredibly well,” he said. “I have an awesome marriage, two fabulous kids who are doing well and still love me more than I deserve. It’s why I can be so grateful. It’s not always what you’re doing. It’s what you leave behind.”