Cancer is a topic we often hear about these days. Some cancers are caused by genetics, others by environmental factors, and others by unknown causes. Here, Katherine shares her story as a mesothelioma cancer survivor to encourage others dealing with this rare and dangerous form of cancer.
There is a terrible type of cancer that, while rare, still affects thousands of people every year. It is aggressive, spreads quickly, and is difficult to diagnose and treat. Most people do not survive this cancer. Related to asbestos exposure, this cancer is called mesothelioma.
Because of damage caused by inhaled asbestos fibers, the cancer develops in some people over years, starting in the lining of tissues around the lungs. Very few people survive it, but this is the story of one of those people.
Symptoms That Seemed Like the Flu
Katherine first got sick in her late 40s. She felt symptoms that were similar to the flu. In fact, that’s what she thought was wrong with her and she wasn’t worried. She had a cough that didn’t want to go away, some chest pains when she breathed, and shortness of breath.
Unlike the flu, the symptoms didn’t improve; instead they got worse. Eventually Katherine ended up in the emergency room, still assuming she would be told she had a very bad case of the flu, or maybe pneumonia.
Her trip to the ER resulted in a surprising diagnosis: pleural mesothelioma, stage 1. Katherine couldn’t believe she had cancer, let alone this rare and awful type of cancer. Her doctors told her that because she was only 49 and in relatively good health otherwise, and that her cancer was still in stage 1, she would live two years, but no more.
Most people, Katherine later discovered, are not diagnosed with this cancer until it is in later stages, and the prognosis is even worse. She was supposed to consider herself lucky, but she was devastated. Instead of giving in, though, she decided to fight.
A Radical Treatment for an Aggressive Cancer
It is nearly impossible to surgically remove all of the small tumors and growths that characterize mesothelioma, one reason it is so difficult to treat. For patients like Katherine, young, healthy, and in stage 1, there is a radical surgical option called extrapleural pneumonectomy. This procedure is risky and involves extensive tissue removal, but it gave Katherine a fighting chance against mesothelioma. She decided to go for it.
Katherine underwent the procedure and the surgical team removed the pleural tissue with the cancerous tumors, some of her lymph nodes, part of her diaphragm, and all of one of her lungs. She survived the surgery, but faced life with only one lung. Recovery would be slow and long and her cancer might still come back.
A Mesothelioma Survivor
The surgery took months to recover from. Then Katherine still needed to undergo radiation therapy to eliminate any remaining cancer cells. Despite this, she felt confident with the decision she had made to fight back and remain hopeful.
After several screenings, one year after her surgery was complete, Katherine’s doctors declared that the cancer had not returned and she was in remission, something that is very rare even in stage 1 cases of mesothelioma.
The path that Katherine took to treat her cancer was not typical. The surgery performed is dangerous and can only be done by a handful of experts in mesothelioma and thoracic surgery. Survival rates are not high for the procedure and complications could have killed her. Her hope, her fight to beat the cancer, and her will to live paid off in the end.
Katherine is now ten years cancer free and still telling her story to help give hope to others, because she is thrilled to be alive.