06 December 2013

Photo Video Friday #128: For Greg

Despite all sorts of good news recently and a lovely holiday adventure... it’s actually been a really tough week, y’all. A couple of days ago, my grandma (wife of beloved Pa) fell and shattered her hip. She’s currently in the hospital awaiting surgery, so all I can do is sit tight and hope for the best.

This upsetting personal news came in the middle of a tragedy at work. Greg Sibbel, a graduate student in my department, was diagnosed in February with a rare and very aggressive cancer, Ewing’s sarcoma. Despite the best efforts of the country’s finest specialists at our institution, Greg succumbed to the cancer on Tuesday. He had been in a rapid decline over the past few weeks, but of course, that didn’t make his death any easier for his friends and coworkers to bear.

At best, Greg was a casual acquaintance of mine, and I don’t want to pretend he was anything more for the sake of credibility or sympathy. But I do know that he was an incredibly nice guy, much loved by his fellow students and professors. And it is always heartbreaking to lose a very young cancer researcher to cancer, one day after his twenty-sixth birthday. It’s simple instinct to want to help in some way, even though I didn’t know Greg well. So, since I don’t know how I could help directly, I figure the best way I can help is to make available his story.

Greg wrote frankly but concisely about his life with cancer on his blog, Model Organism. Even though you know how the story will end, with the last post by his girlfriend Anna, it is still very much worth your time to start at the beginning and read all nine months of weekly entries.

Earlier this year during the government shutdown, Greg spoke out about how absolutely essential it is to fund the National Institutes of Health. Put your politics about the shutdown aside: here’s a cancer researcher, body riddled with cancer, passionately pleading for public research funding.

I expect that some scholarship or research fund will be established in memory of Greg at some point in the coming weeks or months. But in the meantime, if you too are moved by the life and death of Greg Sibbel, I strongly encourage you make a financial donation to the American Cancer Society, which provides research grants to investigators studying cancer (you can earmark your donation specifically for research in the drop-down box under “Gift Type”). Greg also received travel funds to Washington for his NIH trial from CJ’s Journey. And finally, it would mean the world to me – and probably to Greg, as well – if you could consistently exercise your vote in favor of government leaders that support public research funding.

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On Tuesday, after we all learned that Greg had passed away, after those who needed to ran away sobbing, after I sat in the break room eating chocolate and feeling helpless, I found my boss in her office. She was puffy-eyed and still a little tear-streaked, re-reading Greg’s admissions essay from his graduate school application. “I’m reading about his future career plans,” she said.

“I don’t know how you can even stand to do that right now,” I replied, shaking my head.

“It’s okay. He didn’t know,” she said. I nodded, understanding that Greg’s cancer diagnosis and progression happened well after he wrote that essay.

“No,” she continued. “I mean, he didn’t know what he wanted to do after grad school,” she laughed. “And he admitted it. He said he just wanted to do something that would make a difference in people’s lives.”

I smiled. “And he succeeded.”

“He did,” she agreed.