Lung Cancer Survivor Lifts Spirits With Faith and Laughter

"I look for what's good coming out of this. No matter how bad I've got it, others have it worse. We're not going to live forever, so we should make the most of it. Do what you can to help your fellow man."

Gregg Carr
Gregg Carr - Stories of Hope

Gregg Carr is the kind of guy who other people call when they have a problem. A farmer and an emergency medical technician, Carr is great at fixing things and knows what to do in an emergency. A recovering alcoholic of 16 years, who attributes his recovery to his faith, Carr has guided many troubled souls through difficult times. And a fun-loving practical joker, Carr uses laughter to lighten the mood of family, friends, and everyone he meets.

So when Carr, 61, was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer in April 2015, those close to him were eager to do for him what he has long done for them – lend support. Carr’s wife, Linda, stayed by his side during 4 months of treatment with radiation and chemotherapy. His son helped with the gardening and landscaping, his daughter planned her own wedding, friends came by to mow the lawn and deliver meals, and just about everyone Carr knows prayed for him and asked everyone they know to pray for him too.

“I’m going to fight this with everything I’ve got. And I’m going to win,” said Carr. “I want to see grandkids. I want to help people who struggle with alcoholism and cancer. I’m very well known around this area. I’m the one people call when they need help. Now they’re calling me about cancer.”

Making the most of it

From the day Carr learned he had lung cancer, he was determined to walk his daughter down the aisle on September 19 and Linda was determined to help him. “All summer long, that thought was on our minds through every minute of radiation, every hour of chemo, every day of the incredible pain that kept me from eating, every week of living out of a suitcase and every month wondering if the treatments were working,” said Carr.

His ordeal began with shortness of breath that was so bad he found himself gasping for air after walking upstairs from his basement. Friends took him to the hospital in Peoria, Illinois where the medical staff ran a series of tests. They found cancer in one of his lungs and several lymph nodes, and a suspicious spot near his kidney. He also had pulmonary embolisms (blood clots in his lungs) and pneumonia. “My world changed,” said Carr.

He began radiation and chemotherapy in May at Holden Comprehensive Cancer Center at University of Iowa Hospital, which is 140 miles or so from his home. The treatments began to work – his tumor would eventually shrink by about 75%. But radiation also affected his esophagus – the passageway from the throat to the stomach. Eating and swallowing became so painful, Carr could barely get any food down. He lost 25 pounds before he was able to get on the right combination of medicine to treat the problem.

Carr’s treatment and side effects did not tone down his outgoing personality, however. While in the hospital, he learned the names and birthdays of all the doctors, nurses, and other medical staff he met. He encouraged his wife and children to keep up their spirits and stay hopeful. He wrote a blog about his progress and emailed it to friends and family. He has begun writing a book.

“I look for what’s good coming out of this,” said Carr. “No matter how bad I’ve got it, others have it worse. We’re not going to live forever, so we should make the most of it. Do what you can to help your fellow man.”

Mr. Happy Guy

Carr brought his positive attitude with him when he and Linda stayed at the American Cancer Society Hope Lodge facility in Iowa City near the hospital where he had his treatments. A Hope Lodge community offers free, home-like accommodations for cancer patients and their caregivers whose best treatment options are away from home.

photo of Gregg Carr with friends at Hope Lodge in Iowa City

“At minimum, Hope Lodge saved me $5,000 and I met some fantastic people,” said Carr. “It kept my spirits up because I met people going through the same thing I was. They called me ‘Mr. Happy Guy’ because I was always smiling.”

In one of his favorite memories, Carr gave several Hope Lodge guests “hair hats” and organized a group photo. He says they smiled and laughed about it all evening, and for those few hours, he says, they were able to get their problems off their minds.

Reaching goals

photo of Gregg Carr walking his daughter down the aisle at her wedding

Five months after his diagnosis, Carr achieved his dream of walking his daughter down the aisle on her wedding day. He says she smiled all day long, but he cried many times.

And though he’s still being watched closely by his doctor, Carr has returned to work part time. He hopes to work more hours as soon as his doctors say it’s OK.

While he was in treatment, Carr missed his local American Cancer Society Relay For Life event, one of thousands around the world that raise money to invest in cancer research and to provide information and services to cancer patients and caregivers.

For 10 years, Carr was the emcee of Relay for Life of Marshall Putnam Counties in Illinois, starting the year after his father died from pancreatic cancer. He hopes to attend next year’s event and walk the survivors’ lap, and he says if he’s asked to speak, he will.

Carr said, “I have walked many times before to honor my father, my family, my friends and neighbors, and I never dreamed I would be among the fighters, but what a glorious honor it is to be with the bravest, most courageous people I know: the people who are fighting cancer... and winning!”

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team
Our team is made up of doctors and master’s-prepared nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

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