There is no cure for malignant mesothelioma, a rare type of cancer affecting the serous membrane that lines and protects many of the body's most vital organs. Radical and experimental treatments can often increase survival time for mesothelioma sufferers beyond the post-diagnosis mean of one to two years; however, they have thus far been unable to serve as a functional cure. Malignant mesothelioma sufferers, when faced with such dyer news, often sit back and wait for the disease to claim them. Then there are the victims who choose not to back down, choosing to fight to live and embrace each and every moment they are left with. This is the story of one such man.
Diagnosed with pleural mesothelioma in 1999 at the age of 56, this corporate pilot and former fighter pilot was given the typically negative prognosis and informed that any attempt to treat the disease would likely be more painful and grueling than the disease itself. The symptoms that brought around the man's visit to the doctor were those of difficulty breathing and chronic soreness in the lower right rib area.
Refusing to allow a negative diagnosis get him down, he opted for a more aggressive approach to dealing with his rare cancer. As it turns out, he was an excellent candidate for a radical surgical procedure called extrapleural pneumonectomy. An extrapleural pneumonectomy involves the removal of the pleura (mesothelial tissue lining the lungs), occasional removal of the lung closest to the cancerous section of the pleura, occasional resection of the diaphragm and occasional removal of the pericardium (mesothelial tissue lining the heart). Being a relatively young mesothelioma sufferer in stage 1 of the disease meant that the radical surgery could be performed later that year. The nine hour surgery involved the scraping of the chest wall and removal of the pleura in addition to resection of the diaphragm.
Although a trying experience, the extrapleural pneumonectomy was an initial success and a gemcitabine / cisplatin chemotherapy regimen was initiated just six weeks after surgery. The experience caused the man to lose more than 50 pounds as his body dealt with the physical removal of tissue and the harsh effects of the chemical treatments.
The combination of radical surgery and the chemotherapy treatments kept the man's CT scans clear of mesothelioma for more than two years before a newer type of diagnostic test, a Positron emission tomography (PET) scan indicated that the cancer had metastasized, causing scattered tumor growth throughout the lung cavity. This was extremely bad news as it meant that additional surgical/radiation/chemotherapy treatments would not be available because the patient's body could not sustain itself against such an arduous experience.
When given the opportunity to participate in a brand new drug clinical trial for an unnamed tyrosine kinase inhibitor, the man pounced on the opportunity to continue his fight. After approximately eight months of treatment, his tumors had amazingly shrunk. Unfortunately, the disease was simply too aggressive, spreading further throughout his body causing tumor additional scattered tumor growth. The treatments continued on and off for a couple more years before the disease eventually claimed his life.
Fighting the good fight, the man was able to live for more than six years after being diagnosed with malignant mesothelioma (in excess of 4 years longer than average). This gave him time to fulfill a dream with his wife to purchase a yacht and sail the open seas. Malignant mesothelioma may be incurable, but medical breakthroughs take place everyday. By fighting to survive, mesothelioma sufferers might just live long enough to experience a cure.
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