Going for Gold goes for Greg

by Michelle Hartmann, perspectives editor

The Going for the Gold chili cook-off hosted by the Pre-Health Society is an event where people can get loaded up on chili and vote for their favorite pot of the comfort food. But, that’s not its only purpose.

It all started with a diagnosis of a rare form of cancer called Ewing sarcoma. According to the National Cancer Institute, the likelihood of being diagnosed with this form of cancer is about three in every one million each year.

Greg Sibbel was a Simpson College alumnus from the class of 2010 who was planning to get his doctorate in developmental, regenerative and stem cell biology at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri.

Biology professor Jackie Brittingham, whose area of interest is also developmental biology, worked closely with Sibbel during his time at Simpson. She worked with him through his undergraduate research and saw how he changed throughout his college career. Brittingham gave a large chunk of that credit to his parents.

“We had Greg here at Simpson for four years and we saw him more than his parents did,” Brittingham remarked. “I just couldn’t help but tell them thank you for giving us Greg for those four years and beyond.”

While working towards his doctorate, Sibbel had shoulder pain and was attending physical therapy for it. It was then discovered that the therapy wasn’t doing any good and Sibbel was sent to a doctor. In March of 2013, Sibbel was diagnosed with Ewing sarcoma.

Ewing sarcoma is a highly destructive cancer that generally appears in children and adolescents and attacks bone and soft tissue. The disease is caused by a genetic mutation, but is not generally inherited.

Sibbel being diagnosed at age 25 could have been one of the reasons for the dim diagnosis. According to Brittingham, age can have an impact and younger children have a better chance of fighting the cancer off.

“He was older. And that, in fact, affected his prognosis in a big way,” Brittingham explained. “So, someone his age being diagnosed with this, I think, impacted his prognosis in a negative way. Younger children tend to have a better prognosis.”

Throughout his treatment, Sibbel was supported through a group called CJ’s Journey, a nonprofit organization that helps those who are affected by childhood cancer. They provide anything from “Support & Dream Journeys”, which is similar to the Make a Wish Foundation, to providing transportation to and from hospitals.

CJ’s journey is the reason why the Pre-Health Society started the Going for Gold Chili Cook-off. Natasha Shehade, president of the Pre-Health Society, explained they wanted to raise funds and awareness of the nonprofit while reminding other students that Sibbel had been one of them.

“I know that last year, all of us on the committee were really struck by the fact that Greg was one of us. He passed away in 2013, but he graduated here in 2010,” Shehade said. “It makes your mortality very tangible.”

Shehade went on to say all the money donated could be helping find a cure for cancer. Last year, they were able to raise over $3,000. They missed that mark this year, but still appreciate all of the time, effort and money everyone contributed.

Both Brittingham and Shehade emphasized how important it is to hold events like this because Sibbel could be anyone on campus and there is still a need for a cure. Sibbel became the face of the movement at Simpson for the Pre-Health Society.

While Sibbel was a victim of the cancer, his legacy still lives on in the students and faculty who are hoping to make a difference.