George’s Story

(updated September 2012)

Thanks for your interest in learning about George Ghindia’s battle with cancer. As many of you know, George fought Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma for 9+ years. His relentless determination to emerge cancer free impressed his doctors and amazed his friends. He soldiered through this challenge like a true champion, believing that “With God all things are possible.” (Matthew 19:26).

George did “whatever it took” to destroy a ferocious abdominal tumor (15 cm), undergo a Bone Marrow/Stem Cell Transplant (BM/SCT), and beat cancer.  We’re thrilled that he’s cancer free!

Keep in mind that throughout George’s Story, there are some scientific and technical terms noted primarily for the benefit of patients/survivors and caregivers. We recommend seven George’s Journal posts specifically for this special very special audience (scroll down).  Please check back to this site for periodic journal updates, Insights and observations.

FIRST SOME BACKGROUND

George was born in Detroit and was raised in the “downriver” community of Ecorse.  He is the 2nd of five kids, and most grateful for his wonderful parents (John and Sue) and siblings, Mary Beth, Suzy, Janet and John. He attended Trenton High School, where he was a member of Michigan’s #1 ranked football and hockey championship teams.

He graduated from Western Michigan University – Haworth College of Business, where he was a scholarship student-athlete (football). Later, he earned an MBA from the University of Toledo, and studied Leadership at the University of Michigan Ross School of Business.

After working for U. S. Steel in Alabama and Inland Steel in Chicago, and completing his MBA, George moved to California, and now oversees Ghindia Industries Online, Inc. (GIO), which specializes in business growth strategies and solutions (organizational, marketing, sales).

George’s pride and joy is his family, wife Cheryl and daughters, Jacquelyne (14) and Eva (11). He relishes Jacquelyne and Eva’s volleyball matches! This past summer (2012), they enjoyed a 6,250-mile road trip visiting family and friends in Colorado, Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan and Oklahoma, as well as Mt. Rushmore, Henry Ford Museum (Dearborn, MI), Gateway Arch in St. Louis and other landmarks. This trip was one of the visions that motivated George during his illness.

DIAGNOSIS AND EARLY TREATMENTS

George’s cancer struggle officially began in late 2001, while living in the San Francisco area. In June, he had noticed a lump in the groin area of his right leg. After several months of testing, he was at diagnosed November 29th with Stage III, Follicular Lymphoma, a low-grade Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma (NHL).  See George’s Journal (9/27/12) for the various types of lymphoma.

He tolerated the initial treatments well, including “CVP” chemotherapy (cyclophosphamide, vincristine, and the steroid prednisone), at Stanford University Medical Center, and participated in a Phase III Clinical Trial featuring an “idiotype vaccination.” George was under the expert care of Dr. Wen Kai-Weng, a member of Dr. Ronald Levy’s superb team.  Dr. Levy is one of the top lymphoma experts in the world.

For details, see the August 19th and 30th (2010) posts in George’s Journal.  After moving to Southern California, George switched his care to Dr. Edward Nelson at the University of California-Irvine Medical Center. The lymphoma was in remission for several years; however, in August 2008, it was necessary to re-start treatment, this time adding Rituxan to the CVP “chemo cocktail.” Results were modest in shrinking the tumors.

In February 2009, a new chemo regimen was applied, “R-FAD” (fludarabine, doxorubicin, the steroid dexamethasone and rituxan). Treatment was halted in June due to limited progress. Somehow, throughout his various outpatient chemo treatments, George didn’t miss a day of work. He benefited from a life-long dedication to a good diet and physical conditioning.

MAJOR BATTLE COMMENCES

By August 2009, the cancer had transformed into the high-grade, aggressive Diffused Large B Cell Lymphoma (DLBCL).  The various tumors throughout George’s body had consolidated into one singular mass in his right lower abdomen. The pain from the tumor was intense. The chemo regimens received as an outpatient over the past year were increasingly less effective.

The transformation of Follicular Lymphoma into DLBCL created this dangerously growing tumor. At various times, he was taking the narcotic painkillers vicodin, morphine and dilaudid, but they weren’t providing much relief.

At 3:00 AM, September 16th, George’s pain spiraled out of control. Cheryl called for an ambulance. Within minutes, the paramedics arrived, along with several firefighters. Fortunately, the kids slept through it all. He was rushed to UC-Irvine Medical Center Emergency. Later that day, George was admitted to City of Hope Medical Center.

George’s crisis had begun. Over the ensuing 11-months, he was hospitalized 12 times for chemo, pain, radiation, fevers, infections, alternative therapies and the BM/SCT.

In previous outpatient treatments at Stanford and UCI, George received the three levels of chemo, each consisting of multiple 3 or 4-week cycles. With the more aggressive NHL, he was treated with three increasingly potent chemo regimens as an inpatient at COH, September 2009 through January 2010 (1) R-CHOP (cyclophosphamide, hydroxydaunomycin, vincristine, prednisone, and ritixan), (2) R-ESHAP (etoposide, methylprednisolone, cytarabine and cisplatin, and rituxan), and (3) R-GEMOX (gemcitabine-oxaliplatin plus rituxan).

Each cycle required a 6-7 day stay, followed by two weeks at home.  George was determined to put the cancer in remission and qualify for the BM/SCT, but the tumor had to shrink from 15 cm to 5 cm. In addition to his primary physician, Dr. Robert Chen (COH), George consulted with other members of his medical team at Stanford, UCI, and Dana Farber Cancer Institute. He has taken ownership of his health care from the initial diagnosis, seeking the best expertise, treatment options, and care.

RELENTLESS PURSUIT OF A SOLUTION

The intensive chemo could only knock the tumor down to 12 cm, and eventually it became “refractory,” i.e., non-responsive to chemo. It was a life-threatening situation. However, there was some good news: the City of Hope found an unrelated donor match for a BM/SCT. To proceed, George just had to figure out a solution to “melt” the dangerously stubborn tumor and qualify for the BM/SCT!

After his frustrating experiences with chemo, George sought 2nd opinions at Stanford and Dana Farber. He traveled to Palo Alto in February to meet with Dr. Levy. There was a further complicating issue. The tumor was located near George’s right kidney. Dr. Levy recommended a radiation protocol that would avoid the kidney. Dr. Chen agreed.

However, after his 14th radiation session, George was advised the tumor was barely impacted. On March 12th, Dr. Chen delivered a sobering prognosis, “unless something dramatic changes, you have two months.”  Consequently, George agreed to double the radiation dose, and completed 4 more sessions.

WINNING INTANGIBLES:  UNWAVERING SUPPORT, POWER OF FAITH

We were at the point where George needed a miracle. Fortunately, George has benefitted from the prayers of hundreds of family, friends, and friends of friends. He had exhausted all conventional treatments, but was eager to seek out any and all options, reminding everyone he had “way too much to live for” and “With God all things are possible!”

George always maintained a “We’re going to beat this thing” attitude, and realized he couldn’t wait until the April 8th PET-CT scan to find out if there was enough progress to proceed with the BM/SCT. He stayed on the offensive. The March 12th prognosis was no death sentence!

George and Cheryl remained positive and hopeful throughout this ordeal. However, he was in the fight of his life and time was running out. See George’s Journal 4/18/11, about “Positive Thinking, Faith, Hope and Love.”

“Out of the blue” George received unsolicited referrals to two alternative-treatment cancer centers in Tiajuana. His due diligence revealed these opportunities as viable options. Both had documented successes forcing difficult cancers in remission, or eliminating them. The American Medical Association would deem their services, “unconventional.”

George and Cheryl visited both facilities and were especially impressed with Oasis of Hope Hospital (OOH), www.oasisofhope.com.  George checked-in for 12-days, April 1st. Featuring an alternative-integrative medical protocol, OOH is a spiritual retreat where patient and staff camaraderie is an integral part of success.

PRAYERS ANSWERED

While there, George was allowed to leave the hospital grounds for an hour or two each day for some exercise and emotional wellbeing. Though he was walking with a cane due to Deep Vein Thrombosis (blood clots) in his right leg, he managed to stumble around the Tiajuana neighborhood and find a Catholic church several blocks away, Easter Sunday, April 4th.

This experience was profoundly spiritually comforting to him. George had completely surrendered to the Lord’s will, and settled his affairs, but prayed (pleaded) that He keep him here on earth; particularly to care for his young daughters and Cheryl.

George left OOH for two days to get his PET-CT at City of Hope, and on April 9th, Dr. Chen advised him the tumor had shrunk from 12 to 5 cm and was in remission! He believes the dramatic turn-around resulted from treatments at OOH, combined with lingering effects of the high-dose radiation at COH. Ultimately, however, he knows God is in charge!  George was cleared by Dr. Chen to receive the BM/SCT!

The life-saving procedure that George received is technically called an Allogeneic Hematopoietic Stem Cell Transplant (HSCT).  Basically, this involves receiving harvested stem cells from an unrelated donor, a high-risk transplant, but with the potential to eliminate the cancer cells.

This transplant is not an operation, but rather a two-hour infusion of harvested blood and stem cells. It’s more commonly referred to as a Bone Marrow Transplant (I use this abbreviation here BM/STC). George’s BM/SCT took place May 6th – his new second birthday.  He was released from COH, May 28th, after 31 days.

You can learn more about his experiences at Oasis of Hope and City of Hope, and the BM/SCT by clicking on George’s Journal, and scrolling to the April 14th, 22nd and 29th, May 5th and 23rd, and June 2nd (2010) posts.

THE QUESTION: IS THE CANCER GONE?

The 100-days following the BM/SCT are critical for the recovery of the immune system. The new stem cells must successfully engraft and produce healthy new marrow (white and red blood cells, and platelets). After 30 days, he received his first PET-CT scan, and at 100 days, a second, and for good measure, a third in October.

We were ecstatic with the results of those scans – all confirming that George is cancer free, hopefully forever!  The good Lord has watched over George, bolstered his resolve, enhanced his faith, and reversed a dire situation. We believe his dramatic turnaround is nothing short of a miracle!

See George’s Journal for further insights, observations and takeaways from his 9-year journey. In his July and August 2010 posts, George shares information about the various types of cancer and research funding, along with 5 key decisions: his initial diagnosis, who he told and when, the “miracle,” assembling his team and taking ownership of his health care, and a cancer-fighting nutritional blueprint for all.

RECOMMENDED FOR PATIENTS/SURVIVORS/CAREGIVERS

Pleaser refer to the below George’s Journal posts for specific insights especially for patients/survivors and caregivers.

9/27/12 – Blood Cancers / Bone Marrow Transplant Insights

4/18/11 – Positive Thinking, Faith, Hope and Love

8/30/10 – Lessons-Learned on the Path to Wellness

8/19/10 – Cancer Diagnosis:  A Scary Road of Uncertainty

7/26/10 – Importance of Diet and Nutrition

7/12/10 – Living After Cancer

6/18/10 – Blood and Marrow Stem Cell Transplantation

IMPORTANCE OF DIET AND NUTRITION

One of the key takeaways from George’s experience at Oasis of Hope was that plant-based “cancer fighting” proteins are essential to health. All meals at OOH were vegan. However, Dr. George Barossa (oncologist/nutritional expert) recognized that a pure vegan diet was not practical or desired by many. He champions a Mediterranean Diet, which syncs with some leading traditional US medical institutions. How about that, a convergence of thought between the “alternative” and traditional medical communities!

Here’s what the Mayo Clinic has to say: “A recent analysis of more than 1.5 million healthy adults demonstrated that following a Mediterranean diet was associated with a reduced risk of overall and cardiovascular mortality, a reduced incidence of cancer and cancer mortality, and reduced incidence of Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases.” See www.mayoclinic.com/health/mediterranean-diet/CL00011

George has always eaten healthy, but in following the Mediterranean Diet he’s taken his diet to the next level with: plant-based foods (fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes and nuts), soy or almond milk, limited diary (organic eggs, cheese, no cow’s milk, yogurt), whole grains, olive and canola oil, no red meat, no processed food, no butter/creams, pasta with red sauce, chicken, turkey, and seafood.

It’s OK to drink red wine in moderation, or even a beer, but George drinks only water, coffee, tea, protein shakes and fresh juice (fruit or veggies). He read The China Study by T. Colin Campbell, PhD, which provides the most comprehensive study of nutrition ever. It’s extremely substantive, yet highly readable. Check it out.  For more details about the importance of diet, see the July 26th and Aug. 30th (2010) posts in George’s Journal.

FIGHT AGAINST CANCER INTENSIFIES…PLEASE GET INVOLVED

Cancer free is a great place to be, but the word “cure” is not used so much by survivors. There is no guarantee cancer is gone forever. That’s why we must intensify our fight!  We must make the “cure for cancer” a national priority. Just think about all your loved ones who have been stricken with this insidious disease, as well as millions of other patients and survivors.

Please continue your prayers (they work), and get involved with cancer fighting causes.  We urge you join the battle against cancer, whether supporting a family member, friend, co-worker, someone from church, or the numerous organizations and causes, i.e., City of Hope, Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, National Marrow Donor Program “Be The Match.” See links to right on this page.

George feels extremely blessed to have such amazing family and friends!  During his BM/SCT stay at the City of Hope, his physical and mental toughness was severely tested.  He was showered with love and encouragement. When he was cleared for visitors, the outpouring of support was overwhelming! Dr. Chen and the transplant staff were superb.

The new stem cells received May 6, 2010, eradicated the cancer from George’s body.  His anonymous, unrelated donor lives somewhere in Europe. This 40-year old man saved George’s life! With the Lord’s guidance and grace, everything is working out.

After the three-successful PET-CT scans, there are no plans for more. Our hope, faith and prayers are that the cancer is gone forever!

SOMEWHERE SOMEONE IS THINKING OF YOU

We borrow the eloquent words of The Venerable Father Solanus Casey, a wonderful Catholic priest from Detroit who passed in 1957, to summarize the support George has received from you:

“Every day you shall wonder at yourself…at a richness of life which has come to you by the grace of God. But everyone needs someone – knowing that somewhere someone is thinking of you.”

George has been deeply touched and energized by your love and prayers, and the incredible support extended to Cheryl, Jacquelyne, Eva and him. Thank you all. Keep the Faith. There is always Hope!  Together we can make a huge difference.

God Bless You,

George’s Family and Friends

Please leave a message in the Guest Book. We love hearing from you!

Your message tells us who is following our family’s journey and inspires George.  If you’re a cancer patient/survivor, caregiver or health care professional, share your story. George replies to each message.


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