- Cullman, Alabama

October 13, 2013

‘Every day is a gift’: Tim Hermetz, Life Inspiration Award winner, succumbs to cancer

By Loretta Gillespie
The Cullman Times

— For those of us who called Tim Hermetz “friend”, and for his family, last Wednesday was a hard day.

Tim Hermetz leaves behind his mother, Myrna Hermetz; sister, Tina of Cullman; sister, Toni Treadway (Ronnie) of Moulton; a brother, Todd (Christina) of Greenville, S.C.; five nieces and nephews, and a host of friends who also loved him dearly.

Tim was the epitome of a true southern gentleman. Even at the end of his long battle with a rare form of malignant mesothelioma, Tim was polite and courteous to his Hospice caregivers and his family. The last two weeks of his life, according to his mother, Myrna Hermetz, her son was at peace. He continued to talk and joke with family and caregivers, keeping everyone laughing with his dry wit and humor.

He was passionate about photography, often stopping to give novice lessons or point out an easier way to capture a subject. Tim was a familiar sight at social functions with at least one camera dangling from his neck, sometimes two or three in a pocket or bag. He kept copious files of photographs, some of himself with people like CNN’s Wolf Blitzer in Washington, or entertainer John Davidson, when he performed at WSCC a couple of years ago. There were also pictures in his collection of a variety of entertainment personalities, such as Sally Struthers, and many politicians on the local, state and national level.

When Tim lived in Washington in the 1980s, he worked on Capitol Hill as an intern for U.S. Sen. Howell Heflin and as administrative assistant to the president of the Orphan Foundation of America. Later, he worked at Georgetown University Hospital, at Arnold & Porter, Washington D.C.’s largest law firm, at the Sheraton-Carlton Hotel near the White House and as post-production supervisor for five national TV shows.

Besides photography, Tim’s passions were antiques and travel. He loved discovering new things and places, and meeting interesting people. He always had new stories to tell — some little thing that he knew would fascinate or intrigue his friends. He was also an accomplished writer, often working late into the night, getting his thoughts on paper because there was so much left to say…

Tim’s talents went far beyond the eye of a camera or the written page. He loved decorating, and often helped his mother in her many social and civic meetings, competitions, catering and volunteer endeavors.

The two recently teamed up for the third annual United Way Girlfriends Gala. “He spent a lot of time ordering the perfect things for our tablescape,” said his mother, fondly. “He was a perfectionist, you know, and always had to have everything just exactly right, even down to having real punch in the glasses on our table, instead of colored water.”

He was in the truest sense of the word, a “people person.” Tim knew people from all walks of life and never treated any of them differently. He always had a kind word to say to everyone he met, and his courtly manner often made people think of days gone by, when men always held a chair or opened a door for the ladies.

He took on cancer the way he took on everything else, with intense purpose and a keen focus. He brought his battle all the way to the top physicians and researchers in the country. Determined to fight for his life, Tim, who had no medical insurance, sought and was granted acceptance into an experimental program at the National Institute of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, Md.

One of the greatest sources of strength in Tim Hermetz’s battle with cancer was his father, the late Rev. Harold Hermetz, pastor emeritus of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Cullman. Rev. Hermetz died Oct. 12, 2010, at Cullman Regional Medical Center after a brief illness. “I lost my father, my friend, my faithful traveling companion, my cancer caregiver, my role model and my hero,” Tim reflected about a year ago.

“I was blessed to have a close relationship with my dad,” he said. “Most men never get to have that with their dads.”

Tim made over 30 trips to NIH for treatments. Some helped, some made him horribly sick, some had no effect whatsoever. After his father passed away, his mother accompanied him whenever possible, but he usually went alone, which was difficult in his condition, yet he persevered. He also took over 30 chemotherapy treatments here at the Cullman Oncology Center. He loved and respected his physician and nurses there.

Tim Hermetz was considered a success story for his willingness to be a test subject in an effort to eradicate this disease — a painful, terminal cancer which has killed millions of Americans and others worldwide (Tim’s cancer was a disease which attacks the abdominal lining).

Most newly-diagnosed patients with malignant mesothelioma live an average of eight to 12 months after diagnosis. “I’ve lived four years since my May 27, 2009, diagnosis. I feel blessed. Every day is a gift,” said Tim in an interview in which he shared his story with readers of The Cullman Times last year.

He was concerned for people who, like himself, had no health insurance, and he wanted to get the word out to them that there was a place to go for help. “I want to share my journey with people who might be in a situation to go to NIH, who have some incurable disease, and that this might help them in some way,” said Tim. “I’m surviving solely on faith. What else do I have? God has been good to me, giving me four years of life after a terminal cancer diagnosis. I have an obligation to honor this time by serving Him anyway I can.”

Tim became a fierce advocate in the fight for removal of asbestos, the cancer causing building material which is thought to be responsible for his illness. He never gave up the battle to have the material removed from places where people might come in contact with it, the way he did, unknowingly.

For long periods, Tim was very ill from all the experimental medicines, and weak from travel. But time after time, he would rally around, showing up with a smile at the various community functions which he loved to attend.

Although Tim never really got over his father’s death, he felt that he needed to fill his shoes. Even during his worst times, he continued to be a lively and engaging companion to his socially active mother, and his sister, Tina.

Two years ago, Tim was honored by the American Cancer Society as a “Hero of Hope” motivational speaker. He was also chosen as a 2010 Life Inspiration Award recipient for Survivor of the Year by the Cullman County chapter of the American Cancer Society.

Through everything he endured, Tim trusted God. He was brought up in church, the son of a devout minister and a godly mother. He turned his life over to God, placed his faith in His word, and is now free of pain, in a body made new and whole.

On many occasions, friends and family heard Tim say that losing his father while battling Stage IV incurable cancer was the hardest test and trial of life that he’d ever faced. Yet, he knew that his dad would not want him to give up. “He would want me to keep fighting, to help the family during this time of grief, sorrow and loss,” he said.

That’s what Tim would say to us today, that we should never give up, no matter what our battles may be. He would encourage us to keep fighting the good fight, to hold onto each other, to console each other for a time, then move on to help others, and to live life to its fullest and to be grateful for the gift of each day.

Rest easy, beloved son, loving brother, dear friend, and champion of those who are still fighting their fight — your work here will help others to conquer this disease.