A History Buff Gets Cancer Treatment of the Future

Armed with a clinical trial and advanced surgery, Shaun fought the battle against lung cancer.
1:07 PM, Dec 11, 2019

When Shaun Grenan lived in Gettysburg, Penn., years ago, he loved participating in historical war reenactments.

“I feel more comfortable in those clothes than I do in normal clothes,” he even muses.

That passion for experiencing an era long past certainly didn’t stop Shaun from seeking the absolute latest treatment possible when he found himself facing a real-life foe: Stage 3 lung cancer.

It all began a few years ago when Shaun, who now lives in Plymouth, experienced a bout of coughing on a hiking trip in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Weeks later, the coughing persisted. A strong cough medication prescribed by the first doctor he saw did nothing. Eventually, chest scans and further testing revealed the unthinkable: a malignant tumor the size of a softball on Shaun’s left lung.

“They told me that the tumor was pressed against my heart and even protruding out on my side,” he said.

Having watched his grandfather and aunt pass away from lung cancer, no one in Shaun’s family smokes, including him. As a non-smoker, Shaun falls into the 15% of those diagnosed with lung cancer who never smoked cigarettes.

Going Into Battle Against A Lung Tumor

Shaun immediately sought reinforcements, getting a second opinion on his case from another hospital, which offered the 36-year-old a grim prognosis. At the Henry Ford Cancer Institute, though, he met a forward-thinking oncology team that offered him options.

Medical oncologist Igor Rybkin, M.D., thought he would qualify for a clinical trial of an immunotherapy drug that could drastically improve his outcome. The first dose of the drug made Shaun extremely ill — hospitalized him for five days, in fact — but it shrank his tumor enough that he was able to have it surgically removed. Now the size of a tennis ball, thoracic surgeon Zane Hammoud, M.D., could use advanced, minimally invasive surgical techniques to effectively remove the tumor without breaking or spreading Shaun’s ribs.

The post-surgery tactical plan included intense chemotherapy: eight hours of chemo one day, followed by three hours the next — for six doses to keep the cancer from coming back. “I was the youngest person in there!” he exclaimed while describing the visits to the chemotherapy treatments.

Although the cancer and treatment regimen took a lot out of him physically, Shaun shared that the diagnosis was debilitating in other ways.

The fight was taking a toll on Shaun’s busy life. “I was on leave from my job, but I had to quit due to the treatments. My immune system was shot. I missed my brother’s wedding because I was in the hospital. I spent my birthday getting treatment,” he remembers.

Life After Treatment

The aggressive plan of attack appears to be working. At his latest check-up, it was confirmed that Shaun’s lung remains cancer free. His oncologist is closely monitoring small lesions on his liver and nodules on his kidneys. Shaun comes in every six months for scans and blood draws, which can be nerve-racking to say the least.

After treatment, Shaun started to see a therapist to work through his anxiety about recurrence and to talk about his cancer experience. He’d watched family members going through cancer treatment, including his dad’s battle with colon cancer, but nothing prepared him for his own. He’s also exploring other post-care and cancer support services offered at Henry Ford.

Nearly two years after treatment began, Shaun is back to working full-time. He likes taking his dog, Tillie, for walks with his fiancé, Sara, who he credits with keeping him going through it all. He also enjoys reading books and watching TV shows about adventures and has a few of his own planned. His dream to visit Alaska next year when he turns 40 and eventually to travel to Grenan castle in Ireland, which bears his family name.

“I never had to think of a bucket list until I had cancer,” he explains.
The cancer journey is not over for Shaun but he continues to live his life and embrace his passions. The rest is history.
The cancer journey is not over for Shaun but he continues to live his life and embrace his passions. The rest is history.

To learn more, visit henryford.com/lungcancer

Latest news, weather and traffic to start your day!