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Coralville cancer survivor helps other as mentor

BY LAUREN COFFEY | NOVEMBER 29, 2012 6:30 AM

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Greg Cantwell does not pretend to be a doctor. Nor does he pretend to be a therapist or a psychologist. He does not strive for fame or fortune. He simply is trying to make a difference in other people’s lives.

“I believe I was here for a reason; I made it for a reason,” the 38-year-old said. “That reason was to help others.”

Cantwell was diagnosed with a brain tumor in 2004, a cancer known as glioblastoma. It was a stage 4 cancerous tumor that caused Cantwell to have a seizure while living in Minnesota. Doctors told him there was a 5 percent chance he would live over a year.

In 2009, Cantwell and his family moved to Coralville, and he considers himself to be in stable condition.

“You never think you’re going to get cancer,” he said. “I thought I was invincible, just like everyone else thinks they’re invincible. My drive to survive was my son. He was 8 months old in 2004, and now, he’ll be almost 10 in April.”

Cantwell said the rarity of brain cancer inspired him to create a website for survivors of various forms of brain cancer. He said his site is a vehicle for brain tumor survivors to reach out for help.

“I’ve had people call me from the doctor’s office, telling me what the doctor said, and I’ll give my opinion,” he said. “I’m not a doctor, I’m not a health professional, I’m a survivor speaking from experience.”

Cantwell has helped dozens of cancer survivors, including Minnesota native Joe Turner. Turner received his diagnosis in October 2011 and had the tumor removed. The cancer returned in February. In between that time, Turner found Cantwell’s website and reached out for help.

“I found Greg Cantwell’s website, and the second time he helped [inform me] with [the various types of] chemo,” Turner said. “I was not given [the type of chemotherapy Cantwell] option the first go-around.”

Cantwell received chemotherapy that went directly to his brain, a more powerful alternative to receiving chemotherapy through IV treatments. Many doctors do not give this type of chemotherapy as an option because of the risks associated with it.

He believes the aggressive treatment, as well as his positive attitude throughout the treatment, is the reason his tumor has not returned. He said doctors told him that with glioblastoma, there is 100 percent chance a tumor will return.

“My first thought was, ‘I’m going to beat it’ for one,” he said. “I had to be strong; I had to get the stress out of my life. I had good treatment and a positive attitude. You can’t have one without the other if you’re going to get better. The power of positivity, it [helps] with anything.”

Cantwell hopes to continue helping other cancer survivors, although he is facing trouble financing his nonprofit service.

“I volunteer 100 percent of my time — I started the nonprofit to get some corporate help,” he said. “I can’t just do this, I need a job. I don’t ask for any money from my patients; they have greater things to worry about, like insurance. If I got a job, I wouldn’t be able to be available 24/7 as I am now.”

Lisa Cantwell, Cantwell’s wife, needs of a kidney transplant. She was born with cystic fibrosis and was diagnosed with diabetes in her teen years. She said paying both her and husband’s medical bills is difficult when they are surviving on one income.

“Finances are always stressful, whether you’re healthy or not,” she said. “We have a lot of medical bills, though, and we always reach our deductible by like March. That’s around $3,000-$5,000 a year.”

To donate to Greg Cantwell, visit his website, gregsmission.org.

He hopes to receive around $2,900 per month, the equivalent of receiving disability benefits, which he lost this year.

Cantwell believes providing support to others is extremely important, and wants to continue providing guidance.

“This type of cancer needs support,” he said of his need for sponsors. “It isn’t just for research; it also provides support to the patient, and I need support to create awareness.”


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