Tennessee father launches cancer charity as he fights glioblastoma


The headaches started in February.

They didn’t want to go away and the neck problems made the pain worse. There were also issues with the left side of his body, which led Eric South to see a doctor on a cold winter day for an MRI. Five days later, surgeons removed a tumor from his brain and he knew the name of what tormented him: glioblastoma multiforme.

The tumor invaded the right side of his brain, pushing the organ into his skull and causing headaches. For the busy husband, father of two and regional vice president of Robert Half, the diagnosis was unexpected. Of course, he had heard of glioblastoma, but he didn’t know it. Cancer rose to prominence after the deaths of Arizona Senator John McCain and President Joe Biden’s son Beau, but with just 12,000 new cases diagnosed each year, its profile is still relatively low.

Cancer grows quickly and implants tumors in the brains of those diagnosed. Sometimes the tumors are not operable, but in South’s case, her neurosurgeon was able to remove almost all of her – 99.99%. Everything that was visible was cut out by a team of medics using a portable MRI that guided their accuracy. But even with all that is visible removed, glioblastoma has tentacles that hide from the human eye and even the eye of imaging technology.

There is no cure for glioblastoma, also known as GBM, and little research has been done on more common cancers. No one even knows the cause. When South went for her annual checkup in August, her blood tests were normal; six months later, she was diagnosed with a stage IV tumor.

Eric South, 43, sits with his wife, Leslie, as he talks about his battle with aggressive brain cancer on Tuesday, June 15, 2021, in Nashville, Tenn.  In February, South underwent surgery to remove a glioblastoma tumor on the right side of her brain.  He has since signed up for a clinical treatment trial in Texas and has been spending time with his children.  He and his wife started the Gladiator Project, a nonprofit organization to raise awareness about glioblastoma.

But South doesn’t want mercy. He wants a game plan, action and results, which has been his and his wife’s method of attack for the past five months.

Cancer is aggressive, but so is the 43-year-old.

“I think for me the way you deal with it or prepare is just to accept reality and come up with a game plan,” he said. . ”

This prompted him to pursue a clinical trial in Houston where he and two other men, all of the same age and with the same genetic markers, underwent six weeks of treatment at the MD Anderson Cancer Center at the University of the Texas. Back in Nashville, South will continue his treatments to fend off GBM as he visits his medical team in Houston every two months for MRIs that doctors will use to track any changes in his brain.

After South’s surgery, it was a “mad rush” to figure out the next steps. While he was recovering, his wife, Leslie South, who is the assistant general counsel for the Tennessee Department of Transportation, immersed herself in learning all she could about GBM and the clinical trials her husband is facing. could participate.

They only had an eight-week window for South to recover, find a clinical trial, and sign up before starting treatment, a period specific to GBM patients that really comes down to just two or three weeks to get admitted. in a test. With glioblastoma, the trial has to be perfect for the patient and the timing has to be right. There were other trials for which South might have been a candidate for had it not been for the time of her diagnosis.

“It’s one of the driving forces for him – there is still more to learn and even more information needed,” said his wife of 12 years. The two met while they were interns for former Governor Phil Bredesen.

Leslie South receives a kiss from her son Charlie, 8, as Eric South, 43, opens up about his battle with aggressive brain cancer on Tuesday, June 15, 2021, in Nashville, Tenn.  In February, South underwent surgery to remove a glioblastoma tumor on the right side of her brain.  He has since signed up for a clinical treatment trial in Texas and has been spending time with his children.  He and his wife started the Gladiator Project, a nonprofit organization to raise awareness about glioblastoma.

South knows the statistics. But he’s optimistic – and that’s not a statistic, he said.

“Am I going to win? I think so, “he said.

He is not unaware of the reality of his diagnosis but perseveres in spite of himself. He was already a firm believer in the power of the mind and positive thinking, and now that he’s facing cancer rooted in his brain, he’s channeling that belief even more.

He spends time every day focusing on his mental and physical health and preparing his body and mind for what awaits him as he participates in the trial. This includes focusing on things outside of his diagnosis, like his son’s baseball team.

South loves the sport and has passed it on to his sons, Charlie and Marshall, who both go to Grassland Elementary School. While South was in Texas for treatment, Charlie’s team purchased an app to live stream the game that showed real-time stats, allowing South to watch virtually every game.

“It’s amazing for me to see him, with everything he’s been going through, continue to be the same amazing dad he’s always been,” said Leslie South.

The Gladiator project

Charlie, 8, left, and Marshall, 6, South wear designs on Tuesday, June 15, 2021 in Nashville, Tenn.  The boys made the masks for their father, Eric, after he returned from a clinical trial in Texas.

As South recovered from brain surgery in February, inches of snow and ice fell. In his hospital bed, an idea planted in his mind, one he was sure of: he would start his own non-profit organization to provide resources to families affected by cancer and raise money to fund research.

He then named it after the Gladiator, a smoothie his neurosurgeon recommended he drink filled with brain-friendly superfoods like spinach and avocado.

“I knew it was going to be called Project Gladiator,” South said. “It takes a gladiator to go through this sort of thing.”

After South was first diagnosed, he had a “cranky” day. Packets of food rolled around, forming mountains of desserts, snacks and fruit platters in their kitchen. When friends stopped with a “surprise,” he assumed it was more or less the same.

But when he opened their box, he and his wife were amazed to find pictures of their family and friends wearing “Team Gladiator” T-shirts, a secretly coordinated project. The design and logo were developed stealthily, and the shirts are now available for purchase to fund the association. South is also planning to host a charity golf tournament in October to raise funds and publicize the project.

“Team Gladiator is really our support network,” said South.

Glioblastoma does not have the public presence of some other cancers, such as breast cancer, which has a host of nonprofits that support patients and fund research. Even with their connections and the support of family and friends, the Souths struggled to find their next step after surgery. They want provide resources for patients who need it as they navigate their own diagnoses.

“No matter how bad things are, there is always hope,” South said. “Always have hope because someday there will be a cure for this cancer, and I hope to be a part of it.”

To find resources, stay up to date on South’s Diagnosis, and find out how you can help, visit gladiatorproject.org.

Contact Brinley Hineman at [email protected] and on Twitter @brinleyhineman. To stay up to date on Williamson County news, Subscribe to our newsletter.



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