Mesothelioma: Hope, Courage, and Survival
Mesothelioma is a cancer that is rare and very deadly, but which is also strongly associated with asbestos exposure. Most stories of mesothelioma, unfortunately, do not end well, but this story is one of hope and courage, and ultimately survival against all odds. Katherine Keys is a mesothelioma survivor who tells her story now because she wants to inspire others to fight back against any illness.
Mesothelioma – A Deadly Cancer
This is a type of cancer that most often impacts the pleural tissue, a thin, double layer of tissue around the lungs. It causes symptoms like chest pains, difficulty breathing, and a persistent cough. Most often, people who develop pleural mesothelioma were exposed to asbestos at some point, usually on the job. Asbestos was used extensively in a lot of industries and thousands of people have died because of working with or around it.
Katherine Keys got her diagnosis of mesothelioma at the age of 49. This is a young age for mesothelioma, which has an average latency period of several decades. She was very lucky to get a diagnosis early, during the first stage of the disease. Even so, she was given just two years or less to live.
Most people are diagnosed in later stages because this type of cancer is difficult to diagnose. The symptoms are similar to much more common illnesses like pneumonia and may also cause a misdiagnosis of lung cancer. Even with a biopsy of affected tissue, it can be easy to mistake mesothelioma for lung cancer. Mesothelioma spread rapidly and aggressively, which makes it difficult to treat and makes prognoses dismal. Even for Katherine with her stage I diagnosis, things did not look good.
Mesothelioma cancer does not always respond well to traditional cancer treatments. Combinations of chemotherapy, surgery, and radiation are best for targeting the tumors, but the cancer spreads so aggressively that it is nearly impossible to achieve remission for any mesothelioma patient. In spite of the unfavorable odds, when Katherine faced treatment, she was prepared to fight hard against cancer and survive.
She opted for the most radical type of surgical treatment used for mesothelioma: an extrapleural pneumonectomy. Not all patients are eligible for it, but Katherine was young and healthy enough to try. The surgery involves removing a large amount of tissue from the chest cavity in an attempt to eradicate all of the cancer. Katherine’s surgeon removed one entire lung, the pleural tissue, lymph nodes, and part of her diaphragm, the muscle under the lungs that aids breathing.
This procedure is extensive, but it gave Katherine the hope she needed to survive mesothelioma. She had to have her diaphragm reconstructed, and recovery from the surgery took many months. Even after recovering from the procedure, Katherine had to undergo radiation therapy and had to learn to live with the limitations of having just one lung.
Being alive with only one lung was just fine for Katherine because the most important thing for her was survival. After several months and finally one year of screenings that showed her cancer had not returned, Katherine’s doctors declared she was cancer-free and in remission, something that is nearly unthinkable with mesothelioma.
Surviving mesothelioma meant beating all the odds, but it also meant that Katherine had to be courageous in the face of this deadly cancer, as well as hopeful. She was given a prognosis of two years and told that the surgery alone could kill her. But she fought on, determined to beat mesothelioma, and she did. Now she readily tells her story to anyone who will listen. She wants people to know that you can fight and beat, not just mesothelioma, but any obstacle in your path with courage and hope.