A Story of Cancer Survival Over Three Generations

A story of cancer survival over two generations

Two of a Kind
Greg Sanders and his daughter Sarah both say they have many similarities. They look alike in their baby photos. They live in Indian Wells, just an intersection apart. They share the same sharp sense of humor and pragmatic outlook. And Greg and Sarah are both cancer survivors who were impacted in the same way by their experiences.

“Anyone who knows my family knows that I get accused of being my father’s daughter, and I always take it as a compliment because I hold him in very high regard,” said Sarah, who recently marked her fifth anniversary of surviving breast cancer. "I think I speak for both of us when I say cancer — for people like us who fought it and came out the other side — can be a positive, life-changing force if you’re willing to embrace it."

Given their close connection, it’s not surprising that Greg turned to Sarah when he wanted a second opinion on his cancer diagnosis. In November 2019, a urine test during Greg’s routine checkup revealed elevated red blood cell levels. Subsequent scans and tests found several tumors in his abdomen. Greg was initially diagnosed with Stage 4 mantle cell lymphoma, a rare form of the disease.
Based on Sarah’s experience with City of Hope, Greg asked her to help him get an appointment there for a second opinion. She contacted Wade Smith, M.D., the oncologist who treated her at City of Hope | Newport Beach. In less than a week, Greg had an appointment there with Tanya Siddiqi, M.D., a hematologist-oncologist specializing in blood cancers, such as lymphoma, and director of City of Hope’s Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia Program, which is part of the Toni Stephenson Lymphoma Center.

When Greg arrived for the appointment, Smith spent about 20 minutes talking with him in the lobby. “That’s care and concern,” Greg said. “It’s a personalized approach to medicine that resonated with me.”

And then Greg met with Siddiqi. “It was like that old expression, ‘You know when you’re in your mother’s arms,’ and that’s the way I felt about Dr. Siddiqi,” Greg said. “She was adept at explaining what the disease is all about, what the treatment options are and what I can expect. And she didn’t think I was at Stage 4 because mantle cell lymphoma is aggressive and I would have been in much worse shape.”

She also advocated for Greg’s inclusion in a clinical trial of two targeted drug therapies. He began the drug regimen in late January 2021. After 13 weeks in the clinical trial, a PET scan revealed that all of Greg’s stomach tumors had disappeared and the disease was in complete remission. He’s now preparing for a stem cell transplant to completely cure the cancer.

And that’s another thing Greg and Sarah have in common — they didn’t need to go through traditional chemotherapy treatments. They attribute that to City of Hope’s expertise and the high level of specialized care they received.

“Neither one of us were put through the hell my grandmother went through because our physicians had access to the most cutting-edge technology and modern medicine around this disease,” Sarah said.

“We’re both in an exclusive cancer survivors club, but hopefully not as exclusive now as it used to be,” Greg added. “Cancer was too often a death sentence 50 years ago, but now there are so many terrific treatment options that, if you catch it early enough, the chances of living a normal life are high."

It takes the application of science, research and hard work to get from where we were to where we are now, and City of Hope Orange County's physicians have been a big part of that effort.

Can-Do Spirit

Greg celebrates his 74th birthday in June. He says his already full life — he’s a real estate attorney, a lieutenant colonel in the California Guard and Indian Wells city councilman — took on a new dimension with cancer. 

In recognition of his zest for life, Sarah gave Greg a framed inscription when he was first diagnosed that says, “I can and I will.”

“As soon as I am pronounced cured, I’m going to scratch out ‘will’ and write ‘did,’” Greg said. “So that helps explain the relationship between the two of us.”

Discover compassionate, world-class cancer care at City of Hope Newport Beach. Our renowned cancer specialists use their unique expertise to deliver groundbreaking treatments backed by our pioneering research. Call 949-763-2204 or contact us online.