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Giving Cancer a Good Dogfight
Royal Grant has a personality and life story just as grand as his name. Grant was in college studying engineering when the Vietnam War began. His professors were so impressed with his knowledge base, they asked if he had any other aspirations. That’s when he decided to join the Air Force. At one point in his service, Grant was stationed at Dover Air Force Base as an aircraft mechanic. After his service, Grant returned to Delaware. He spent his days building a house from scratch, by logging a piece of property and using the wood to build his home. He also raced in national sailing competitions and built an airplane.
Years later, Grant made the move into commercial aviation. Grant flew for the same aviation company for more than 30 years. He said there was “never a dull day.” He recalls flying everything from Kentucky Derby horses to hazardous materials. As flight engineer, Grant was able to continue flying past age 65, the federally mandated retirement age for commercial pilots. While he’s faced many challenges throughout his life, the biggest battle he’s faced began just a few years ago.
It all started in early 2017 when Grant developed severe stomach cramps. It was initially chalked up to a bad stomach virus that was going around. When the cramps didn’t subside, further investigation revealed Grant’s colon was blocked. By the time Grant was in surgery, his colon had ruptured, which led to increased risk of infection following surgery. Once his surgical team had started their procedure, they immediately noted other masses in Grant’s body. While his medical team was thrilled with how quickly he recovered from the emergency surgery, they also informed Grant about the next obstacle he would face: cancer. Grant was diagnosed with stage IV colon cancer that had metastasized to his liver and lymph nodes.
“Royal had the most aggressive form of colon cancer,” said Grant’s oncologist at the Bayhealth Cancer Center, Priya Singh, MD. “Royal was evaluated at another institution for participation in a clinical trial. He elected to receive his therapy locally with us at Bayhealth, where he received advanced multidisciplinary clinical treatment in a caring and nurturing environment in his hometown.”
Grant learned from his medical teams that the average survival for his diagnosis is 36 months. “I told them it was the wrong answer for me because we were going to make history together and beat this,” he said.
Grant’s nurse navigator at the Bayhealth Cancer Center was instrumental in making sure records were sent, questions were answered and appointments were properly scheduled. Grant first started his treatment at the Bayhealth Cancer Center at Milford Memorial before the move to the Bayhealth Cancer Center, Sussex Campus in Feb. 2019. “I’ve loved both facilities, but I can’t say enough about the new Cancer Center,” said Grant.
Since his diagnosis, Grant has undergone more than 60 rounds of chemotherapy. “Royal accepted the most aggressive therapy option we could offer,” said Dr. Singh. “The therapies we offer to patients depend upon their health and other medical problems. It’s a very personal choice, but there was no doubt that Royal was ready for the challenge.”
The intense chemotherapy regimen was tough on Grant physically. He described leaving the Cancer Center feeling as though he had the flu. “I’d be lying if I said it was pleasant initially, but I knew this was what I had to do,” said Grant. “You can’t rest when it comes to cancer. Cancer is, simply put, just terrible. But I was ready to fight. The truth is I attacked cancer with the lessons I learned from flying. I couldn’t have done this without my wife. She was my guiding light through this process.”
Grant and his wife Susan have been married for more than 30 years. Their idea of dating was building an airplane, restoring a sailboat and constructing a car. They actually married in the very house Grant built from the ground up. Close friends, along with Susan, accompanied Grant during his chemotherapy sessions.
“Royal has a great attitude and a positive outlook,” said Dr. Singh. “He truly appreciates the care he received from the medical team and his extensive support network of family and friends.”
Grant believes his attitude has had a huge impact on his outcome. “It was crucial for me to let my medical team know I was determined to beat this,” said Grant. “My scans are now perfect. The entire cancer team approached this in such a great way. The nurses are mechanics; each day I told them that they were saving my life. Wherever those nurses are, that’s where I want to be.”
Grant also changed his diet, and now has a daily smoothie consisting of more than a dozen healthy ingredients. Years after his initial diagnosis, Grant is beating the odds in so many ways.
“Mr. Grant has had a great outcome and has beaten the odds for survival,” said Dr. Singh. “His case is one example of how we have advanced in oncology.”
Grant still receives chemotherapy and is deciding next steps for his treatment plan.
“I know what a gift my life has been,” said Grant. “When we first started on this journey I didn’t know where this tunnel would lead. I can now say it has taken us to a very bright spot.”