Sterling Heights resident Tim McGrath, center, stands with his parents, Greg McGrath and Kathy McGrath, at their home.

Sterling Heights resident Tim McGrath, center, stands with his parents, Greg McGrath and Kathy McGrath, at their home.

Photo provided by Robert Ortlieb

Beaumont patient never lost hope despite perilous cancer journey

By: Sherri Kolade | Royal Oak Review | Published November 7, 2017

 With his tumor gone, Sterling Heights resident Tim McGrath is working on some patents and enjoying many activities.

With his tumor gone, Sterling Heights resident Tim McGrath is working on some patents and enjoying many activities.

Photo provided by Roberst Ortlieb

ROYAL OAK — When Sterling Heights resident Tim McGrath, 38, lost half of his face due to a rare form of cancer in 2015, he kept his motivation and zeal for life — and he couldn’t help but be an encouragement to others.

“I can’t dwell on the what ifs,” he said in an email. “I wasn’t in despair; I never felt hopeless. It just felt like another one of life’s hurdles.”

McGrath’s cancer subsequently caused him to lose his left eye, left ear, half of his jaw and lower scalp, according to a press release. McGrath underwent treatment for his tumor at Henry Ford Hospital in October 2015, but attempts to surgically reconstruct his face were not successful, the release stated. His body rejected the grafts, which left half his face exposed and susceptible to infection.

McGrath was diagnosed with synovial cell sarcoma in February 2014. The soft tissue tumor was near his left upper jaw and behind his cheekbone. For 18 months, he sought nonsurgical, alternative treatments, the release said.

McGrath said in the release that the alternative treatments slowed the progress of the tumor, but in May 2015, surgery to drain an infection in the area caused it to become greatly enlarged.

The tumor tripled in size, becoming the size of a grapefruit, according to the release. 

The tumor’s growth affected his ability to breathe and eat; he had a tracheostomy and was fed through a tube.

McGrath said in the email that it was difficult to eat.

“My jaw was constantly in pain, sleep was very difficult; it hurt worse when I was resting, so I would work long hours to distract myself,” he said. “(There) were a few occasions where the tumor grew between my teeth and I could no longer chew — quite scary at the time, and I had to rely on shakes to get nutrition. The good thing is, when the tumor was at its largest, the pain was almost nonexistent, I imagine because the tumor had severed nerves in that area.”

McGrath, presently, has difficulties with speech.

“You focus on what you can do and you get things done,” he said. “You focus on the positives you have and not on what you don’t. I was lucky to be connected with an amazing nutritionist, who introduced me to Liquid Hope (liquid meal replacement). I eat better nutrition now than I did through my mouth; it was an amazing blessing. I believe it’s a good part of the reason I’m still here today.”

Dr. Kongkrit Chaiyasate, a plastic and reconstructive surgeon with Beaumont Hospital, Royal Oak, said that when he met McGrath in April 2016, “his brain was exposed.”

Chaiyasate said during a phone interview that they discussed different treatments for McGrath.

“It was a difficult case when he came to me … a lot of complications … (he was) in bad shape,” he said, adding that when your brain is exposed like that, people typically cannot live their lives fully. 

Chaiyasate added that skin was taken from McGrath’s thigh and grafted onto his face. 

“Complex reconstruction (surgery) got him to where he is right now, where he can pretty much resume his normal life,” he said.

Chaiyasate added that he is very happy seeing his patient play golf and enjoy life.

“If he’s happy, I’m happy; happiness is internal,” Chaiyasate said.

McGrath said in the release that Chaiyasate is not just his doctor.

“Dr. C is amazing in many ways. He’s a humanitarian, who dedicates his life towards giving and helping others. … I consider him a great friend,” McGrath said in the release. 

McGrath added that when he first found out about his diagnosis, he was a bit shocked, especially because of his health. 

“I had dedicated most of my life to nutrition and (health),” he said in the email. “I was never sick.”

He said that some days were worse than others.

“When you experience severe pain, it can poison the mind. I tried to stay (focused) on positive thoughts; I knew negative thoughts would creep in, can’t fight it, just have to allow them to pass through, and get back to positive if possible,” he said.

It wasn’t always easy, especially after hearing the description of the surgery required to remove the tumor.

“I was a bit horrified. At the time, 14 days in a hospital after surgery seemed crazy,” he said. 

He added that as far as some of the natural options he used to slow a very aggressive tumor, he did lots of research and found many avenues to consider.

He said cannabis oil has played an important role in his recovery.

“I wish I was given better options with cannabis oil. (I) didn’t have all the information I have today on the medicinal qualities of the plant. It did give me a lot of time to grow spiritually and experience many things I never would have slowed down to consider,” he said. “I wouldn’t have changed a thing. (That) part of my life ... was so valuable to me. It changed my perspective on so many things in my life, and what was important.”

What is also important is that today, the tumor is gone.

McGrath is now working on a few patents. 

“I have a few inventions. I designed a golf club cover for the driver. I have come up with a safety device for electrical devices. I am also working on a speech app and device to help those who cannot speak, or are experiencing what I’m going through,” he said, adding that golfing, among other activities, is relaxing. “I like to go to the gym a few times a week, I love playing hockey — I just recently returned to the ice. I love getting out into nature. I try to remove myself from TV by reading. I love being in the sun; I love boating. I hope in the next few years I am allowed to swim, and experiencing the feeling of being underwater.”

He added that his friends and family have been amazingly loving and supportive throughout his journey.

“I am sure a lot of them didn’t think I would get past some of the obstacles I got through, but I am still here, and it’s an honor to be called an inspiration on a daily basis,” he said.

McGrath’s mother, Kathy McGrath, said that her son’s diagnosis was a profound moment. 

“When you are faced with a diagnosis such as that ... you go through all the normal stages of disbelief and denial,” she said. “You are totally perplexed and wonder what is the next step.”

She added that her family is definitely faith-based and very positive.

Kathy McGrath echoed her son’s thoughts and said that they were blessed with so many friends and family members who rallied around her and her husband, Greg’s, son.

“We know Tim is a great dude because he is our son, but when you see the influence Tim has had on so many people ... we’re so proud of him,” she said.

She added that her son’s story has gone viral, and many who have experienced similar medical conditions have reached out to the family.

“He is always so willing to reach out to them and to just support them in any way that he can,” she said of her son.

Kathy McGrath said that Tim McGrath had the opportunity to wear a prosthetic on his face to look more symmetrical, but he declined.

“He said at this time he’s not ready,” she said, adding that her son said he wants to be an example of letting inner strength shine through — but that can’t fully be done with a prosthetic. 

“He’s very humbled by the fact that he’s been asked to walk this journey, and that he is still here to help people,” she said.