Scholarship Winner Reflects on Grandfather’s Mesothelioma Journey


Written by Ella Savage | Edited By Walter Pacheco

Ella Savage is enrolled in the Animal and Veterinary Science Program at Clemson University with plans to attend veterinary school once she completes her undergraduate degree. She is the first-place winner of the Fall 2022 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 abdominal cavity.

“Sandy, I don’t think you will be here to see Christmas,” the doctor told my grandfather. “I would get my affairs in order if I were you.” 

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

Although the typical life expectancy for most mesothelioma patients is approximately 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, first received his diagnosis in 1992, he and his wife rented a sailboat for several weeks and sailed around St. Martin.

After their Caribbean journey, he was ready to fight his cancer. Several doctors evaluated Greypop and recommended surgeries and rounds of chemo. However, he attributes the work of Dr. Paul Sugarbaker for saving his life. Sugarbaker told 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 is how it began.

Extensive Surgery Gives ‘Greypop’ 30 More Years

According to my grandfather, Sugarbaker performed an extensive surgery in 1993 to remove affected tissue. The surgery 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 extended the lives of cancer patients, and it extended the life of my grandfather.

We celebrated Greypop’s 90th birthday this August. And as of October, he has lived 30 years beyond his two-month prognosis. During those three decades, he has traveled around the world. He has been able to see his grandchildren attend college, marry and have children of their own. He still flies his own plane.

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

Those who have been diagnosed with mesothelioma need to know there is always hope. Two months can evolve into 30 years. Find the right doctor who finds the right treatment plan. Find a doctor with a passion to save lives equal to your desire to overcome your cancer.