IOWA CITY — On a mission borne from experience, Greg Cantwell of Iowa City counsels 263 brain cancer survivors around the world and hopes to reach more.
“I believe I’m here for a reason,” says Greg, 38. “That’s to help people who go through the same diagnosis I did.”
He cites statistics — every year 66,000 people in the United States are diagnosed with a brain tumor, 680 in Iowa, 1,150 in Minnesota where he was treated in 2004 for glioblastoma multiforme.
Greg was given a year to live. He wants to help others beat the odds.
“My goal is to get the media to take my story to the public,” he says.
He’s tried other avenues but has run into roadblocks. Medical facilities reject his requests to display his brochures. They cite privacy laws.
“I need hospitals to open up,” he says, clutching a pile of his fliers, “to at least let me put this stuff in them.”
As a non-profit, he also needs financial assistance.
“At pharmaceutical companies, I get a real good reception and some help. Other companies (hospitals, clinics, etc.) I talk to, they’re gung-ho about it. But, when it comes right down to it, I don’t see anything financial from them.”
He knows patients and their families have enough to worry about, so he won’t ask them to pay for his services.
Born in Germany, Greg grew up in Maryland and earned his college degree in business management while working for airline companies, first with American in Colorado and then with Northwest in Minneapolis. The night he arrived in Minnesota to be operations manager, he was hospitalized after a seizure. Tests showed brain cancer. Treatment included surgery, six weeks of radiation, more than a year of chemotherapy. Even now, eight years later, odds are nearly 100 percent the tumor will return.
In 2009, after another seizure forced Greg to re-evaluate his life, he launched survivorandcaregiver.com which has more than 150,000 hits and remains active. He moved to Iowa City with his wife, Lisa, an Iowa native and a liver transplant recipient.
Now he concentrates on Greg’s Mission (gregsmission.org). He travels the country talking to groups. He’s been designated the National Brain Tumor Society’s lead advocate in Iowa and Minnesota. He’ll Skype, email, telephone survivors wherever they are. He’ll go to doctors’ appointments with patients and family.
“I’ve been through it,” Greg says. “I know what questions to ask and to make sure they get all the answers they need.”
Greg has “Cancer Survivor” tattooed on his forearms, wears seven bracelets for a variety of causes, maintains a smile through it all.
“The treatment you receive,” he says, “can’t work without a positive attitude.”
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