was 36 years old when my life changed forever. I was a new mother and it seemed that my 3-month-old daughter, Lily, absorbed all of my energy and attention. Suddenly, I needed to find new reserves of strength.
I was in Dr. Flink’s office when he said, “You have a tumor.” I knew that many people receive such a diagnosis – but something about the way he held my hands when breaking the news led me to wonder if my case was worse than the others. Then I learned it was mesothelioma.
Mesothelioma is one of the most aggressive forms of cancer. A malignant mass in the lungs, it is considered a terminal diagnosis for most individuals. It typically affects older people and veterans. I was in my thirties. I had a newborn daughter. Regardless, somehow I needed to reconcile myself with this new reality: a virtually incurable disease.
I had three possible roads ahead of me: I could forgo treatment, trying to remain as comfortable as possible for my remaining 15 months; I could undergo chemotherapy and radiation, which would extend my survival to perhaps 5 years; or I could seek treatment at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. In this third scenario, Dr. David Sugarbaker would evaluate me for surgery. If I was, indeed, a candidate for surgery, I could improve my life expectancy to 10 years or more. My husband and I agreed that I had to strive for those 10 years. We had to go to see Dr. Sugarbaker.
In early February, 2006, I underwent extrapleural pneumonectomy. My doctors considered me a strong candidate for the surgery because of my general good health, and also my relatively young age. Dr. Sugarbaker had performed hundreds of these surgeries, with many successful outcomes. The surgery was still a serious undertaking. Extrapleural pneumonectomy includes not only the removal of the tumor, but also the removal of the complete affected lung, some of the diaphragm, and some of the membrane that lines the lungs and heart.
Thanks to Dr. Sugarbaker’s skill and, perhaps, my own tenacity, the surgery went well. I still had challenges ahead of me, including a nearly 3-week hospital stay and 5 months of adjuvant chemotherapy and 30 radiation sessions.
6 years later, I am cancer free. I hope that someday everyone diagnosed with mesothelioma will be able to defeat it and leave it behind. In the meantime, I am blessed to be able to offer a story of hope for others with this aggressive cancer. I’ve shared my full story on my blog at the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance.