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Defying the odds: Brecksville man given months to live now eight years past brain cancer diagnosis

Brecksville man: Faith helped me beat brain cancer
Posted at 6:05 PM, Aug 04, 2017
and last updated 2017-08-04 18:06:33-04

Glioblastoma is a deadly form of brain cancer. The odds of survival generally aren't very good, but Bill Sanders of Brecksville is living proof that it's possible those odds can turn to be in your favor.

There is a verse in the Bible that applies to Bill Sanders' story. When you hear his story it is easy to understand why. It comes from the book of Isaiah.

“If you didn't have faith, you wouldn't have the hope,” Sanders explained.

"And the LORD will continually guide you," the scripture begins "...And give strength to your bones."

“August 3rd, 2009, I was told, 'you've got a brain tumor,'” recalled Sanders.

It wasn’t just any brain tumor.

“They saw this and they said, 'boy, this is a classic GMB blood tumor,'” he said.

It was an extremely deadly form of brain cancer known as glioblastoma.

“One of the doctors even said, 'if you last two months, it'll be incredible.'”

But Sanders was determined to beat the odds and hold on to his faith, with his wife and family by his side every step of the way.

“I told them all during the testing, 'I'm not going to be satisfied with 12 months or something like that. I'm going to live to be 88,'” he recalled. “And every time, they'd say, ‘Ok, that's good.' I'd say, ‘I gotta change that... 88.8!'”

Sanders went through surgery to remove as much of the tumor as possible, then radiation and chemotherapy, and started a clinical trial with Dr. Manmeet Ahluwalia at Cleveland Clinic.

“When we look at real-life data, less than five percent of people are alive at five years,” noted Dr. Ahluwalia.

But eight years later, Bill is living proof that cancer doesn't have to be a death sentence.

“All of a sudden, there is no tumor up here,” said Sanders. “They can't find it.”

“The point that you want to make to the patient is that there is hope,” Dr. Ahluwalia shared. “We'll definitely try our best to figure out the best treatment plan for them. And then there's a higher power, which helps us achieve that goal.”

That is Sanders’ message: To hold on to hope, stay active and live fully.

“My message is love life,” he told us.

These days, you'll often find Sanders in his garden. It is a hobby he picked up through his quest to beat brain cancer. He still has the reminders of his fight, including the pictures and the scar. And he still has the faith, like that Isaiah scripture that closes, appropriately, "And you will be like a watered garden, And like a spring of water whose waters do not fail." 

Sanders still gets an MRI once a year. He just celebrated the eight year anniversary of his diagnosis and is still cancer free. Besides his faith and team of doctors, he also credits the support of his family for getting him through.          

When it comes to brain cancer, Dr. Ahluwalia recommends going to a major academic center, and says you should not accept just the standard treatment, as those who go through clinical trials tend to have better odds.