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Virtually Indestructible

In February of 2011, John Elliot went to see his family physician in Erin, Tennessee, complaining of a constant stomach ache and being unusually tired. You see, John’s primary hobby and most favorite thing to do every day was – work. He has worked as a painter since the early 1960s when he taught himself the ins and outs of house painting. His first job was for an elderly couple who gave him a $50 bonus for a job well done. John says that with the extra money, he almost broke even on the job. That simple bonus showed him that hard work and attention to detail pays off in the end.

Since that day, John estimates he worked 12 - 14 hours a day. He would do one job, come home, clean up and go to another job. He was always working. “I like working, I like seeing a job completed, bidding on the next job and being chosen to DO the job.”

At the doctor’s office, x-rays were taken which showed fluid accumulation in his peritoneal cavity. His doctor told him "You have a lot of fluid on your stomach that's not supposed to be there!” He immediately referred John to a cancer specialist to determine the cause of the fluid.

John with his daughter Sherry

A few weeks later, John met with a specialist up the road in Clarksville, Tennessee who after examining him told John “Well, you have a little bit of fluid on your stomach, but I don't think it's anything to be concerned about.” He sent John home with a prescription for an antibiotic. When John informed his family doctor about the results of the consultation, his doctor was aghast and scheduled John for a peritoneal tissue biopsy. The tissue specimens were sent to Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee where pathologists, using immunohistochemical staining returned a diagnosis of peritoneal malignant mesothelioma.

After the diagnosis, John met with a local oncologist who wanted to begin treating him with chemotherapy – a combination of Alimta and Carboplatin. Surgical intervention was ruled out due to the fact the mesothelioma had wrapped itself around the intestines and parts of John’s liver.

After one treatment, John decided to discontinue the treatments. It was explained to him that with the treatments, his life would be extended three to six months. The side effects of the first treatment helped him decide that he wanted quality of life over quantity.

A horse named Blackjack

In March of 2011, John was set up under hospice care. That was twelve months ago. “I think my decision was right, because I have outlived all of their estimates!”

He still finds time to visit with his five children, three step-children, 23 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. Eight years ago, he given a horse that he still keeps on his 60 acres in Erin. Black Jack was supposed to be for his kids and then grandkids to ride and spoil, but none of them ever rode Black Jack. Turns out, they are all afraid of horses! “It did not quite work out the way I planned it.” These days, according to John, Black Jack is just one big pet because John does not ride horses either.

Currently, John takes Oxycontin and morphine for pain. He is still under the care of hospice and has become close friends with his nurses, as everyone does after spending any time with John. He lives near his daughter Sherry who owns her own paint contracting business. Several times a week, Sherry picks John up and takes him to the job site to import his wisdom and sense of humor to the workers.

John with sons Lucky and John

Since his diagnosis, he has taken a trip to Costa Rico, visited one of his daughters and brothers in California, enjoyed a “game or two” in Las Vegas and is planning a cruise toward the end of the month.

John is very philosophical about his mesothelioma and open-minded. “The main thing that people, everybody, will find out when you're dying is to get your own head around the fact that you're dying, okay, and once you can do that then you can, kind of, go on with the rest of your life the best you can. Am I sick? Well, I'm sick with the mesothelioma, but I don't feel sick. I'm not sick, I'm dying. There's a difference in the -- in the two things, you know.

“I will go when I am ready and not before.”

*** Posted on April 10, 2012 ***

** John Elliot passed away on January 3, 2013 **