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  1. Health

Former meteorologist faces a new storm: pancreatic cancer

David Grant and wife Beverly pose behind their home. They have decided to stop treatments for his pancreatic cancer.
Published Sep. 30, 2012

TAMPA — David Grant chased the weather for 40 years as a television meteorologist. Ice and snow near Seattle, tornadoes in Oklahoma, hurricanes in Florida. Grant helped viewers get through it all with his reassuring delivery and ready smile.

Now, at 79, he is facing a personal storm.

Grant has pancreatic cancer, diagnosed almost two years ago. He has tried chemo, experimental drugs, and has consulted experts across the country. Yet the disease has spread.

Together with Beverly, his wife of 35 years, and his doctors at Moffitt Cancer Center, he decided a few days ago to stop treatment.

It's a decision he is sharing in a style that feels familiar.

In a brief, upbeat video sent to family last week, Grant appears on camera wearing a purple shirt, the color of pancreatic cancer awareness. Smiling resignedly, he delivers the news.

"It's about the biggest day of all I think," he says, gazing steadily into the camera held by Beverly.

"Twenty-fifth of September, we'll remember this day. We have a plan. We're gonna leave the chemo off and let this body just take us as long as it'll take us."

He ends, no surprise, on a reassuring note, speaking for himself as well as his wife.

"We feel so good about it,'' he says.

• • •

Grant came to the Tampa Bay area from Houston in 1986 to be chief meteorologist at WFLA-Ch. 8. He stayed there for 14 years, a fixture on the evening news with Bob Hite and Gayle Sierens, until his retirement in 1999.

Viewers missed him, and so did his colleagues. I was the station's health reporter back then, and no matter what kind of crisis or deadline we faced, David could always make me laugh.

He embraced retirement, spending his newfound free time with family, especially his grandchildren and great grandchildren. And he played tennis — up to five days a week, hours at a time.

"But not just swatting the ball at the net," said daughter Stephanie Davidson, 54, of Atlanta. "He plays hard, like the pros you see on TV."

In the fall of 2010 while on a trip to North Carolina, Grant developed a persistent, painful stomach ache and an odd lack of energy. When he got home, he went to see his family doctor, who thought it was diverticulitis. But when standard treatment brought no relief, Grant was sent to a gastroenterologist. A CT scan found what Grant described as, "a growth the size of a Ping-Pong ball wrapped around a major blood vessel in the pancreas."

The tumor's location ruled out surgery. Doctors recommended radiation and asked how much he thought he could handle.

"Try to cure me if you can," he answered, and they gave him the highest dose.

Next came chemotherapy. When that didn't help, Grant signed up for an experimental drug. The side effects were so severe that the man who had chased and smacked tennis balls for five hours at a time had to stop.

• • •

On a recent Saturday afternoon, in the family room of the Grants' north Tampa home, golf is on the big TV, the sound muted.

Daughter Stephanie is there for the weekend. Beverly is busy in the kitchen preparing to serve cake. Laura York, another former co-worker at WFLA, has joined me for a visit.

Grant wears his favorite purple button-down shirt, a small purple ribbon pin on the collar. His hair is still thick and white and neat.

He's thinner than usual, but still impish, laughing, telling stories, gesturing for emphasis, walking around the room to act out scenes from the tales he tells.

He shares details of his disease and treatments with matter-of-fact ease, supplemented by his wife's amazing recall of names. Stephanie produces the stack of spiral notebooks in which Beverly recorded every step of their two-year journey — outings, doctor visits, medications, what and how much he ate, how he was feeling. Of course, there are notes about the weather.

This is one of his good days. He's not in pain and not as fatigued as he usually is. On most days he sleeps a lot and isn't much interested in food. He hasn't been able to play tennis since June.

What troubles the Grants most is that in the majority of cases, including his, pancreatic cancer is diagnosed too late for effective treatment.

Three-quarters of patients die within a year of diagnosis; some last just weeks. Grant feels lucky to have had time to get his affairs in order and plan his funeral.

"We faced it, we talked about it, and we're prepared for it," said Beverly. "Maybe not every marriage can handle it this way, but this was the best way for us."

They hope their example might help others make end-of-life decisions early, before grief overwhelms. They also hope to publicize the need for better detection and treatment for a disease that for unknown reasons is on the rise, according to the national Pancreatic Cancer Action Network.

During their most recent visit to Moffitt doctors confirmed what the Grants suspected, that none of the treatments had worked. He might have three months or so.

I was not at all surprised to hear that my old colleague was the one offering reassurances. He told his doctor that she'd done all she could, and that he and Beverly were grateful for the excellent care he'd received. He worried what it must be like for a doctor to have nothing left to offer a patient.

The Grants are planning a trip to the north Georgia woods. David hopes for one of his good days to hit a few tennis balls.

Beverly walks her visitors to the door with a bottle of chilled water and a small napkin printed with the words they live by, "Make every hour a happy hour."

Contact Irene Maher at imaher@tampabay.com. Letters for the Grants may be sent to them at P.O. Box 271084, Tampa, FL 33688.

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