Mesothelioma is the rarest form of malignant cancer that affects the lungs, abdominal cavity, and heart tissues. The most common cause of mesothelioma is asbestos, a lethal naturally occurring silent killer, which has been used for centuries in construction and related job occupations. Occupational or environmental exposure of asbestos can cause mesothelioma, but this unpopular form of cancer mostly goes undetected because it starts showing symptoms after 20-50 years of initial exposure when cancer has already reached the climax. It has a poor prognosis, limited treatment options, and fewer survival rates. Nevertheless, we have stories of hope and survival. Today you will meet three inspiring people who didn’t succumb to this fatal disease by their hope and resilience.
Without further ado, let’s dive in!!
“When doctors told me my diagnosis. I didn’t react to it, I was not upset, I was not shocked, I was not in disbelief. I don’t know how to describe it, but I was at peace with the diagnosis, my diagnosis.” Blair.
Blair, a spiritual and religious person by heart, grew up in Dallas, Texas, with her eight siblings. Her mother worked and looked after her kids. Blair’s father was a taxi driver. Belonging to a traditional American family, she, along with her sisters, was taught all the chores, especially cooking and baking, which she loves.
Blair, the mother of three daughters, enjoys decorating her house, arts and crafts, and volunteering in church activities. With an education in accounting, Blair worked as an assistant in an electric company.
At the age of 49, she was diagnosed with stage 1 pleural mesothelioma. Her mesothelioma journey started in February 2007 when she caught the flu and cold and experienced tightness in her chest.
She went to the doctor who diagnosed her with the bacterial infection. After taking antibacterial medications, her situation didn’t improve, so her best friend took her to an emergency where doctors did her CAT scan and other usual tests. Test results were not good news. She was diagnosed with fluid in her lungs, and further testing revealed stage 1 pleural mesothelioma.
Due to large latency periods, it is extremely rare that mesothelioma is diagnosed at such an early stage. Blair was lucky and grateful that she had treatment options, unlike many unfortunate mesothelioma patients.
Due to early diagnosis and good health, Blair was a good candidate for potentially curative surgery. Few months after diagnosis, a major surgical procedure called extrapleural pneumonectomy (EPP) was performed on her right lung. In this procedure, her right lung, as well as the lining of the lung, was removed.
After several months of surgery, when she recovered, radiation treatment was performed five times per week for several months.
Blair recovered from radiation treatment. Although radiation treatment is usually coupled with chemotherapy, luckily, Blair didn’t need that. She was pleased about it, as chemotherapy has many side effects.
After her treatment regimen was over, Blair was regular for her scheduled follow-up appointments. First, it was after a month, then every two months, three months, six months, and now after a year.
In the follow-up treatment PET scan, X rays and other blood tests are performed to know if the patient is cancer-free.
Blair has suffered a lot emotionally and physically, but now she is living a happy cancer-free life with her family. Her positive attitude, strong will power, and resilience paid off. Now, she proudly shares her story with others to inspire others not to lose hope.
‘Don’t worry about things you can’t control.’
Blair is a religious and spiritual person. She believes that there are certain things in life out of our control. We shouldn’t worry about them; instead, we should believe everything happens for a reason and for good. If we have faith, then we can fight and conquer our fears. She mentioned that when she was diagnosed with mesothelioma, she started surfing the internet a lot and found about asbestos, that this cancer-causing substance is found everywhere in walls-ceiling and tiles. She was worried and conscious first about the carcinogens found all around us, but she discovered that walking around in a bubble will only make you scared to do things.
“What good comes from worrying.” Blair
So, instead, she preaches faith and strong will power can help people fight and make it through.
Notice the positive signs
“I was so eager to get the ‘demon’ as I like to call cancer that’ out of my body.” Blair
Blair being a positive spiritual person has faith that in difficult situations, God sends signs to help us deal with it; for instance, she believes before her surgery, an extended family reunion helped her to cope up with emotional trauma.
“My ward number 731 matched with my daughter’s birth year and month (i.e., 31st of July or 7.31).” Blair.
She says that she is not sure if these signs actually meant something for other people, but for her, these were the positive signs. And these signs helped her never lose hope.
Having a good support team is important.
“Illness like mesothelioma is challenging for the entire family, not just the person with the disease,” says Blair
Her family, friends, and support group played a huge role in keeping her positive. After the surgery, she stayed in ICU for two weeks; she was in a lot of pain and unable to speak.
To recover from surgery in the hospital, she stayed for one and a half months, and she felt so lucky and grateful as she was surrounded by loved ones who stayed with her day and night and supported her through this difficult time.
But during this time, she also had a heartbreak when her husband couldn’t deal with the illness and abandoned her. She says that she was embarrassed and devastated, but she received outstanding support from her friends and family that helped her cope up with every challenge.
Find hobbies and enjoy life.
“Know that you have a steering wheel in your hands, and you are in control of your journey. If you know you can make it, you will make it.” Blair
An interesting thing Blair discovered in this difficult phase was that she loved music. Music not only uplifted her mood but also gave her hope. For her, music changed the atmosphere of the dull and boring hospital room.
So, she suggests finding little things that help a person feel good and positive because, in the end, attitude makes a difference as it did for Blair1.
“When the doctor told me that I have cancer called mesothelioma. Mesothelioma was a new word for me. He told me,’ it might go away’ even though I didn’t know much about mesothelioma, but I knew cancer might not just go away.” David
David is a U.S. Navy veteran who spent ten years as a boilerman. David is married to Sara, and the couple lives in Colorado.
David, unfortunately, is no stranger to cancer as he lost his first wife to cervical cancer about 30 years back. As a navy veteran, he belonged to the high-risk population for developing mesothelioma as the ships they work on have asbestos in them.
Due to the long latency period of mesothelioma, people exposed to asbestos 20 to 50 years ago may experience the symptoms now. So, although David left the navy 50 years back, he was identified with pleural mesothelioma now.
David experienced chest pain first. X Rays and an ultrasound revealed fluid in his lungs. He was given medication and sent back home, but his condition worsened. He returned to the doctor, and a biopsy was performed, which revealed mesothelioma.
In Davids’ words,
“As I was prepared for the surgery, I felt very comfortable with the specialist, I trusted my doctor completely, and faith and support from my wife gave me peace of mind.”
A Pleurectomy of David was performed in Boston. David was informed of the risks and complications before. The medical team successfully removed the cancer lining from his heart and lungs. Surgery was followed by warm chemotherapy treatment to kill the remaining cancer cells. He was the first person to receive such cutting-edge surgery in the VHA system (Veterans Health Administration).
He remained on medications for some months to recover from the surgery.
David was not a good candidate for surgery due to age factor, his age at the time was 76, but doctors took the risk as surgery was the only ray of hope for David.
David’s doctor never told him the stage of cancer, nor did he ask as he believes that knowing the stage of cancer can be discouraging for some patients, and they only wanted to focus on treatment instead of dwelling into factors they cannot change.
Have faith and stay positive
”My faith helps me stay positive, and I also get strength and positivity from the love and support of my wife, Sara.’
David’s doctor told him that he went for surgery because David had a very positive outlook and that he wouldn’t have performed the surgery if David was depressed or felt sorry for himself.
According to David, “Combination of positivity, love, and positivity will help you recover and get you back home.”
Today David is living a happy life with his wife Sara, and they have several grandchildren2.
“Today, I’ve outlived my original prognosis and continue to raise awareness of this terrible disease.” Linda
Linda was living a happy married life; she was living with her husband and three months old daughter when she got diagnosed with mesothelioma in November 2005.
Her father, who worked at drywall unintentionally exposed Linda (when she was young) to asbestos through his work jacket.
Linda started to feel shortness of breath and chest problems, along with exhaustion and fatigue. She went to the doctor to know the cause. The doctor performed tests like CT scan and thoracentesis. The doctor informed her that there is a tumor in the lower left lung, and further testing was done. She was later diagnosed with malignant pleural mesothelioma (MPM).
Doctor asked Linda if her father was a miner or he worked with asbestos, In Linda’s words:
“I saw myself as a child, wearing my father’s work jacket, white and crusty from drywall dust.”
But she was determined enough that she is not going to let cancer win. Linda, along with her family, moved to Boston for treatment.
Surgery was performed, followed by warm chemo treatment.
But after the surgery, her kidneys somehow stopped working. The doctors were fearful that they had to put her on dialysis, but she says that she prayed, and everyone in her family prayed, and it was a miracle the day before her dialysis, her kidneys started working.
After recovering from surgery, she went back home and was put on chemotherapy. Chemotherapy has many emotional and physical side effects, but Linda kept strong and positive, and this positive outlook helped her a lot to deal with it.
“I dressed nicely, with my makeup and hair done. I might be sick, but I would be damned if I was going to look sick. In some ways, that attitude made the chemo easier.” says Linda
After chemotherapy, her radiation treatment was performed for a few months, after which she was issued a diploma and sent back home.
Inspiring other people
She decided to start writing and blogging to help people deal with it. She met mesothelioma victims and their families. She says that she wants to give more than hope to people. She wants to inspire them.
Filing a Lawsuit
Linda was furious that asbestos companies are responsible for her illness, so, with the support of her husband, doctors, and a law firm, she filed a case against the asbestos companies. She got the settlement. But she feels that settlement cannot replace everything she has lost. She lost her left lung, her daughter’s childhood memories, and her career.
But as her health was back, so was the fire in her. She is now working with the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization and The Environmental Working Group to implement a full ban on asbestos usage, and she is determined to continue fighting until there is a ban.
These are all stories of mesothelioma survivors. Survivors share their stories hoping that hearing their stories might help other people who are battling with mesothelioma. Sometimes hearing other people’s experiences and knowing that you are not alone can give you hope and courage to beat the odds1,2,3.
If you or a loved one are suffering from mesothelioma or have been exposed to asbestos, consult a mesothelioma attorney now.
- Beating The Odds: Surviving Mesothelioma. Google Books. Accessed May 14, 2020.
- Heather von St James: The Asbestos Industry and Mesothelioma. Union of Concerned Scientists. Accessed May 14, 2020.
- ADAO90278. (2012, August). 2012 ADAO AAC: Heather Von St. James Interview Retrievedfrom:https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=4&v=XemRn4UbtWo&feature=emb_logo