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Mesothelioma Survivor Stories

Even though mesothelioma is a rare and aggressive cancer that has dismal survival rates, many patients have surpassed their life expectancy to become survivors.

Life expectancy is an educated guess based on the patient’s set of symptoms. In the end, though, it is just a guess. Many patients live well beyond what doctors say. While it’s unclear why some patients beat the odds in their mesothelioma battle, one thing is clear: they have lived full and rich lives, even with the disease.

Why Do Some Patients Live Longer?

Life expectancy is based on a number of factors including overall health at the time of a diagnosis, age, gender and location of the disease. All of these things, and other factors like genetics, make everybody’s experiences with the disease different. Certainly, physicians can generalize about life expectancy, but every body is different.

Notable Mesothelioma Survivors

Some mesothelioma survivors have lived well beyond their life expectancy and gone on to be a testament to healthy living. They utilized not just conventional treatments but also untraditional treatments as well to live happy and healthy lives:

Paul Kraus

A native of Australia, Paul Kraus was exposed to asbestos when he was a young man in 1962 during a summer job. In 1997, Kraus, 52 at the time, was diagnosed with peritoneal mesothelioma and told he only had months to live. He was told that the three main types of therapies -- surgery, chemotherapy and radiation -- would only be palliative.

In the days that followed, Kraus and his wife devoted all of their energy and time into researching mesothelioma. In the days after his diagnosis, Kraus started a “rigorous ‘anti-cancer’ diet” with whole foods, fruits and vegetables. He began juicing fruits and vegetables, taking a regime of nutritional supplements and avoided refined and processed foods. He also used meditation and visualization as part of his regime and plays heavily on his Christian beliefs.

In 2011, he was diagnosed with prostate cancer and has continued his holistic regime. Today, Kraus is considered the longest living mesothelioma survivor. He has written several books about his journey.

Heather Von St. James

Just three months after giving birth to her daughter Lily, Heather Von St. James, 36 at the time, was diagnosed with pleural mesothelioma. As a young girl, Von St. James said her father would often come home from work at construction sites with white dust on his clothes and boots. No one thought anything of it at the time, but it turned out to be asbestos dust. Von St. James had been unknowingly exposed to secondhand asbestos as a child.

It was August 2005 when Von St. James was diagnosed. She was experiencing difficulty breathing and random fevers so she underwent tests that showed she had fluid around her lungs and a tumor on the pleura, the membrane that surrounds the lungs. Further tests revealed a diagnosis of mesothelioma.

Von St. James was presented with three options: do nothing, undergo chemotherapy and radiation or undergo a radical new surgery called an extrapleural pneumonectomy. She was told if she did nothing she had 15 months to live and the chemotherapy and radiation option would extend her life expectancy to about five years. At the time, the extrapleural pneumonectomy was a new and risky surgical procedure that involved removing the damaged lung, the pleura, diaphragm and pericardium, which is the lining that surrounds the lungs. She underwent the procedure with great success.

Today, Von St. James speaks nationwide about her experience and the physician who performed the surgery, the famed Dr. David Sugarbaker.

Judy Glezinski

Diagnosed with pleural mesothelioma in 1990, Judy Glezinski lived with the disease until 2009. She underwent radiation therapy and several surgeries to remove the diseased tissue and tumors. She also relied heavily on holistic treatments including massage, mediation and nutrition.

Like Von St. James, Glezinski was exposed to asbestos as a child from her father’s clothing. When she was diagnosed, she completely overhauled her diet and lifestyle to include complementary and alternative medicine (CAM).

“Some of her success can be chalked up to science -- but a great deal more can be attributed to faith, alternative treatments, and unknown combinations of ‘all of the above,’ ” the authors wrote in Glezinski’s biography “Surviving Mesothelioma: Making Your Own Miracle.”

Other Survivors

In addition to the well-known survivors, there are scores of other, lesser-known mesothelioma survivors who have beaten the odds to live strong and healthy lives. Many of them have similar stories -- exposed to mesothelioma at work or secondhand and diagnosed decades later. Some have undergone extensive conventional treatment, while others have gone through different paths. All have lived well beyond their life expectancy.

  • Kasie Coleman -- Diagnosed in her 30s with peritoneal mesothelioma, Coleman underwent several emerging treatments including two Hyperthermic Intraperitoneal Chemotherapy (Hipec) treatments. For this procedure, the tumors are removed and the abdominal area is bathed in a chemotherapy solution. She is currently the owner of a bakery.
  • Tim Crisler -- At age 45, Crisler was diagnosed with pleural mesothelioma. He underwent an extrapleural pneumonectomy to remove the damaged lung and the sac that surrounds the lungs. He has lived for more than a decade following his diagnosis.
  • Wayne Neal -- Diagnosed with peritoneal mesothelioma in 1991, Neal turned to red tart cherries as his healing elixir. He had started eating cherries decades earlier and swears by them today. Now in his 80s, he is still eating cherries daily.

Sources:

  1. Baillie, Rebecca. “Keeping fit helps man beat deadly cancer.” Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved from http://www.abc.net.au/7.30/content/2001/s302183.htm
  2. Berkowitz, Ben. “Special Report: The long, lethal shadow of asbestos.” Reuters. Retrieved from http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/05/11/us-usa-asbestos-lawsuits-idUSBRE84A0J920120511
  3. Brown, K.D. “Heather Von St. James: Mother, Cancer Survivor, and Inspiration.” Babies, Boobs, and Blowouts: A New Mom's Journey. Retrieved from http://kdbrownwriter.blogspot.com/2013/07/heather-von-st-james-mother-cancer.html#sthash.qdF0PL5b.dpuf
  4. Kember, Lorraine, et al. “Surviving Mesothelioma: Making Your Own Miracle. ”
  5. O’Connor, Michael. “Review: Prayers, Promises & Prescription for Healing.” Aurora. Retrieved from http://aurora.realviewtechnologies.com/?iid=70149
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