Serena Ayala's Journey
Serena Ayala is an optimistic, witty, kind and loving mother of four. She and her husband are busy parents that enjoy spending time with their four children aged twenty-six, twenty-one, ten and six (three girls and one boy). The happy family was enjoying living the SoCal life in San Pedro, CA, and then everything changed in June 2014.
Serena, who has been a secretary at Kaiser Permanente for 18 years, knew the age-old advice “never ignore symptoms—not matter how small” was true. Thinking she had a hernia, she spoke with a doctor at Kaiser when her bellybutton felt uncomfortable. Shortly after, she noticed an egg-sized bump on her stomach and got a computerized tomography, or CT, scan. The scan brought back results that she didn’t expect—she had peritoneal mesothelioma. With the help of her lawyer, Serena was able to trace the asbestos exposure to her dad, who worked with asbestos.
Serena had surgery at Kaiser where her doctors took out everything they could in her abdomen, but they weren’t focusing on her chest at the time where the tumors had since spread. She started chemotherapy treatments in October 2014, and by the third treatment her tumors shrunk. However, by the sixth treatment, her tumors were no longer reacting to the treatments. She was continuing with the chemotherapy, but has recently postponed treatments due to the toll chemotherapy was taking on her kidneys.
Serena and her family continued to put their trust in God and regularly attend the Community Christian Church. One day, her husband asked for prayers for her recovery. That’s when she met the Jarvis’, another family who have dealt with the devastation that mesothelioma leaves in its wake. They told Serena’s family about the Pacific Mesothelioma Center (PMC) and invited them to the upcoming 5K Walk/Hike for Meso.
“Everyone at the PMC has been great and very helpful. Just having people who understand or have ‘been there’ has been a great source of support,” Serena said.
Recently, Serena’s family and friends came together to help her financially though this tough time by hosting a Harbor Pasta Fundraiser Dinner on August 8 at her church. There was face painting, an opportunity drawing and a delicious pasta dinner. Everyone enjoyed themselves, and the fundraiser was successful.
Serena says that despite what she’s going through, she tries to remain positive. “I’m living my life. I actually feed good!” she said. To others who are fighting the uphill battle, she offers some encouraging words of support, “Don’t give up. There’s hope. Fight it and have faith.”
Pictured: Serena and Saul Ayala (middle) with two of their daughters.
Rosemarie Ganoe's Journey
“Rosemarie Ganoe is a jewel in the San Pedro community… always puts others before herself. She believes it is important to give back to the community that has given so much to her,” reads an excerpt from the San Pedro Women’s History Month Celebration program. Rosemarie was honored by the San Pedro Chamber of Commerce in March 2015 for her volunteer work within the community. She was presented with five certificates of appreciation— two of which were signed by Congresswoman Janice Hahn and Senator Isadore Hall. Senator Hall personally presented his signed certificate to Rosemarie. “You can never give enough,” Rosemarie said.
Anyone who knows Rosemarie can attest to her generosity— even when her world was shattered by the death of her husband, Mark Ganoe, whom friends referred to as Rosemarie’s “everything.” They were inseparable, including working together at their family business alongside their two daughters, Erica and Elena, attending church and walking the family dog, Pepe—their favorite pastime. Sadly, after getting checked for pain in his chest, and multiple misdiagnoses, Mark passed away on March 6, 2011— just six months after being properly diagnosed with the disease. By the time he found Dr. Robert B. Cameron, his tumors were too far advanced for surgery. “It was really awful. Just when we thought it couldn’t get worse, it did,” she said.
Drawing from her personal experience with mesothelioma, Rosemarie has become a champion for the Pacific Mesothelioma Center (PMC) by helping to fundraise for research and supporting every fundraising event. “I want to help get the PMC’s name out there. If more people were aware of the PMC then they could eliminate going anywhere else, and patients could receive treatment much sooner.”
In March 2012, the one year anniversary of her husband’s passing, she hosted a Casino Night at the American Dalmatian Club along with her daughters, family and friends. “It was a tremendous group effort, everyone who loved Mark pulled together to make the event a huge success,” she said. The event raised $75,000 for mesothelioma research. Since then, she has provided numerous prizes for events from her jewelry store, Captain’s Treasure Chest, and is a familiar face at fundraising events. Despite all the help she provides for the Center, she said that she is more “grateful for all the support from the PMC. I just hope I can help someone else.”
You can expect to see Rosemarie at the fourth annual 5K Walk/Hike for Meso on September 27, 2015, connecting with other survivors, fundraising with Team Mark Ganoe and you may even win a piece of her beautiful jewelry. She says events like the 5K Walk/Hike helps survivors and their families heal. “I’ve met other survivors and spouses (at these events) and it helps to know you’re not alone. That’s what’s great about them; you don’t have to carry your grief alone, but together. It’s like a family. I’ve met wonderful people whom I now call friends.” She is also on the fundraising committee for an upcoming black-tie gala, A Lauter Voice for Mesothelioma, in honor of veteran actor Ed Lauter who died from mesothelioma in 2013.
Although Rosemarie knows what it’s like to lose someone to mesothelioma, she says she has not given up hope for a cure— and you shouldn’t either. “I pray a lot for a cure. Every year since Mark passed away, there are more developments. You look at some of the fatal diseases from 20 years ago and they are now curable. Never lose hope.”
Pictured: Rosemarie Ganoe (right) with her husband, Mark.
Judy Winkel's Journey
Judy Winkel arrived in the United Stated from Kenton, a town just outside of London, in 1960. Her immigration to the United States was the product of an all-too-familiar circumstance that many parents can identify with: “My parents didn't like the guy I was dating. So they sent me to America aboard the Queen Mary,” Judy said. She adds with a laugh, “You couldn't do that now.”
Today, Judy lives in Santa Barbara, CA and spends her time gardening, knitting and sewing. She has recently started exploring Genealogy, the study of families and the tracing of lineages and history. “I haven’t found any kings or queens— not even any robbers,” she said with a chuckle. But life for Judy has proven, at times, to be as tough as tracking lineage— especially when she was diagnosed with mesothelioma in November 2013.
Unlike many mesothelioma patients who know for certain that their occupation was the cause of their exposure to asbestos, Judy is not sure where or when she came in contact with the deadly fibers. “I could have been exposed in so many places: clothing, being in a remodeled house or even talcum powder.” Nonetheless, she realized something was not right and had her exploratory biopsy in Santa Barbara. Unfortunately, like so many mesothelioma patients, she was told they could not treat her. She was advised to see Dr. Robert B. Cameron, a Scientific Advisor at the Pacific Mesothelioma Center (PMC), Director of the UCLA Comprehensive Mesothelioma Program, Chief of Thoracic Surgery at the West LA Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Senior Professor of Thoracic Surgery at the David Geffen School of Medicine, UCLA and a pioneer in the field of mesothelioma.
Naturally, the diagnosis was scary and the information about mesothelioma treatment was confusing. Judy said that speaking with Dr. Cameron helped bring clarity. “I was scared to death. But then I met Dr. Cameron, and he is such an authority on the disease. I was so grateful that he accepted me for surgery,” she said.
Dr. Cameron performed his signature lung-sparing pleurectomy/decortication (P/D) surgery on Judy on February 6, 2014. The P/D operation involves opening the chest and removing all visible tumor. “In our hands, about 90 percent of the time, we can remove all of the tumor that we can see during surgery. That’s the goal— to remove all of the tumor that we can see. We take it off the lung and leave the lung in place,” he said.
The surgery went well, but that was just one of many obstacles. Judy needed radiation treatment to give her a better chance at long-term survival. Although she lives nearby in Santa Barbara, traveling the 90 miles to UCLA for five weeks of radiation was not an ideal situation. The PMC stepped in and helped Judy apply, and ultimately get accepted, into the St. James Inn in LA— a “home-away-from-home” no-cost lodging resource for UCLA patients undergoing critical medical treatment.
Now, Judy says that she’s feeling pretty good. “This is a new reality and a new me. My stamina is diminished and I have to be aware of that. But, I've come through surgery wonderfully and I’m grateful to Dr. Cameron and the PMC.”
Since undergoing treatment, Judy has used her positive outlook and experience with mesothelioma to help others who are also fighting the disease. Through the PMC’s First Mesothelioma Connection Program, Judy was able to share her insight with newly-diagnosed patients who were just beginning to navigate the world of mesothelioma treatment. The Program puts mesothelioma patients, like Judy, in touch with newly-diagnosed patients to share experiences and, most importantly, explain what to expect while undergoing treatment from a first-hand prospective.
To others that are currently fighting mesothelioma, Judy had some inspiring words of wisdom. “It does take a long time to recover, but there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Keep a positive attitude— that will help you tremendously. You can get through this. You just have to be determined.”
Pictured: Judy Winkel (right) with her husband, John.
Martha Munoz's Journey
Martha Munoz, Social Worker
UPDATE: Six years after being diagnosed with mesothelioma, Martha is now cancer-free. Click here to learn about her progress.
At age 12, Martha Munoz’s father uprooted her family from a comfortable life in Mexico and brought them to the United States. Her adopted country welcomed her hard work as a social worker, wife and mother.
In 1996, as her husband Arturo was set to retire after 30 years of building cars at the local Ford Motor factory, Martha was also offered a retirement package from the county. Thus began a life of travel to Hawaii, Europe, Mexico and Texas while helping her children complete college and start their adult lives.
March 2009: Mesothelioma
But in March 2009, at age 68, her life changed. It started when she was suddenly out of breath when she walked. She was then hospitalized, fluid drained from her lung and a biopsy performed. It was confirmed that she had mesothelioma.
The oncologist she saw at Mission Hospital in Mission Viejo recommended she see Dr. Cameron. So how did she get this disease that only comes from exposure to asbestos when she worked in an office? Her husband explains: “There was a lot of asbestos where I worked. It got on my clothes and Martha did all the laundry.” Arturo has no sign of the disease.
May 2009: Operation with Dr. Cameron
In May 2009, Dr. Cameron operated on Martha at UCLA Medical Center. She still leads an active life with Arturo, takes leisurely walks in her neighborhood while planning trips to visit her children in Texas and Michigan.
“I’m here and thank God, Dr. Cameron and my family for all the things that they have done to make my life easier and more fulfilling,” she says.
“I would like to be around to hear Dr. Cameron say: ‘We have found a cure for mesothelioma lung cancer. You can now be cancer-free!’”
Michael Rogers' Journey
UPDATE: Sadly, on August 7, 2015, Michael Rogers lost his battle with mesothelioma.
Michael Rogers' and his wife, Betty, are soaking up the beautiful California weather when the phone rings. It’s the Pacific Mesothelioma Center (PMC) calling to check in. Michael and Betty are from Anchorage, AK, but were visiting Los Angeles for Michael’s mesothelioma treatment. Betty answers the phone, laughs about how beautiful the weather is compared to Alaska and says that Michael is outside catching some rays. This is, no doubt, a scenario they didn’t envision themselves in when Michael was diagnosed with malignant pleural mesothelioma on July 3, 2014.
Michael is a Navy Veteran and a retired electrician—two professions that are known for the use of asbestos, the minerals that cause mesothelioma. After realizing something was wrong, he visited a clinic in Anchorage where he was given the news that no one wants to hear— he had mesothelioma. He was told that there was nothing the clinic could do for him and was advised that hospice care may be his best option. He was told to get all of his affairs in order.
DO NO HARM
Upon being diagnosed in Anchorage, Michael’s family immediately began doing their research. Betty came across Dr. Robert B. Cameron’s name and, “We started there.” Dr. Cameron, a Scientific Advisor at the PMC, a pioneer in the field of mesothelioma and a long-time advocate of the lung-sparing pleurectomy/decortication (P/D) surgery, knew that the medical advice the clinic in Anchorage gave, or lack thereof, was not the best option. He considered Michael to be a good candidate for surgery.
Dr. Cameron has one philosophy to the P/D surgery, “Do no harm.” The P/D operation involves opening the chest and removing all visible tumor. “Instead of removing the lung (as is done in extrapleural pneumonectomy, EPP, surgery), you carefully separate the tumor from the healthy lung. This can be done very completely so it provides just as much tumor clearance as taking out the lung. It does so with much less sacrifice of lung function and risk of having surgical complications that result in bad outcomes and even death,” Dr. Cameron said.
FROM ANCHORAGE TO LOS ANGELES
The PMC’s Executive Director, Clare Cameron, heard of Michael and knew the road ahead would be tough, especially financially. She also knew that it would be even more of a financial burden for the Rogers if they were forced to fly back-and-forth from Anchorage to Los Angeles so that Michael could receive the treatment he needed.
So, the PMC got to work to help them. First up, airfare. Through Angel Flight, a network of pilots and volunteers who arrange free air transportation for any legitimate, charitable and medically-related need, the Rogers were able to receive most of their flights from Anchorage to Los Angeles for free. Next on the list was housing for several weeks while Michael underwent surgery and radiation therapy at UCLA. The PMC previously worked with the St. James Inn in LA, a “home-away-from-home” no-cost lodging resource for UCLA patients undergoing critical medical treatment, and helped the Rogers apply for lodging. Knowing that being accepted was a long-shot, because of limited space and the volume of applications from cancer patients all over the world that the Inn receives, it wasn’t clear that this would be a viable option for the Rogers. But then, the stars aligned, a spot opened up and the Rogers were accepted into the program.
“We found out that cancer is such an enemy,” Betty said. “It attacks you physically, but also emotionally and financially. Thanks to Clare and the PMC, some of our flights were paid for and we are in housing where we pay almost nothing. Thanks to the PMC, it made the nightmare so much easier. We will always be grateful.”
GAVE MIKE HIS LIFE BACK
Michael Rogers had the lung-sparing surgery on December 11, 2014. The surgery went well, and Michael is undergoing radiation treatment. Now, Betty and Michael are back in Alaska and look forward to living their lives.
“Dr. Cameron gave Mike his life back. He is an awesome Doctor—there’s no doubt about it!” Betty said. When asked if they had any advice for those who are currently fighting mesothelioma, Betty said plainly, “Go see Dr. Cameron.”
Pictured: Michael Rogers (right) with his son, Richard (left).
Robert Finamore 64 Year-old Retired Welder
Robert Finamore was a 64 year-old retired welder, metal fabricator and Navy machinist’s mate living in Fresno, California with his wife of 38 years, Rebecca. Robert and Rebecca had a daughter, Leslie, and he had two children from a prior marriage, Amy and Jeffery.
Robert’s life was active and fulfilling, but it wasn’t without challenges. In recent years, with Robert’s support, Rebecca had overcome three separate bouts with cancer. With these health scares behind them, Robert was planning to open his own metal fabrication shop.
In the middle of 2010, Robert began experiencing shortness of breath and chest pain and immediately suspected that his past asbestos exposures as the cause. Growing up with a father who served in the U.S Navy, Robert followed in his father’s footsteps and served as a machinist’s mate in the Navy during the late 1960s.
October 2010: Classic Signs of Asbestos Exposure
In October 2010, Robert eventually sought treatment for his symptoms at the VA Medical Center in Fresno. Testing revealed a right pleural-based nodule with bilateral pleural plaques and calcifications, all classic signs of asbestos exposure and possible malignancy.
A nurse practitioner ordered follow-up chest scans to monitor the nodule and a year later in October 2011, he was deemed “low risk” for “lung nodules” and was given a follow-up appointment for the next year. However, five months later in March 2012, Robert returned to the Fresno VA with symptoms including cough, fevers, sweats and chest pain. No imaging scans were performed and he was discharged.
September 2012: Fluid Around the Lung
In September 2012, Robert again attended the Fresno VA, this time with worsening pain. A CT scan revealed fluid around the lung which was drained but no cytopathology was performed to determine the cause.
On September 7, 2012, Robert was admitted to the Fresno VA and underwent a right thorascopic biopsy. He was discharged without a specific diagnosis compelling him to ask for a second opinion from the Stanford Cancer Clinic, stating that he was concerned that "some things were missed at the VA".
As months went by, Robert’s symptoms continued to worsen and he began to question whether the growth in his chest could really be benign. It was out of this frustration and doubt that Robert and Rebecca began researching asbestos treatment specialists.
March 2013: Pacific Mesothelioma Center
In March 2013, they found the Pacific Mesothelioma Center (PMC) located in Los Angeles. They learned that PMC’s scientific director was world-renowned mesothelioma specialist Dr. Robert Cameron of UCLA.
They were shocked to find out that Dr. Cameron also treated veterans at the West Los Angeles VA Medical Center (West LA VA). Even though Robert was being treated at the VA Fresno facility, he and Rebecca were never told that the West LA VA was designated as a regional treatment center for patients diagnosed with, or suspected of having, pleural mesothelioma.
Robert contacted Dr. Cameron’s VA nurse practitioner, Graciela Hoal and arrangements were fast-tracked for Robert to be seen at West LA VA. Dr. Cameron performed a pleural biopsy on April 4, 2013 and pathology analysis of the tissues resulted in a diagnosis of malignant pleural mesothelioma.
Robert was then quickly scheduled for a pleurectomy / decortication surgery which Dr. Cameron performed on April 23, 2013.
Unfortunately, despite the best efforts of Dr. Cameron and the rest of the team at the West LA VA Mesothelioma Center of Excellence, Robert’s condition quickly deteriorated by the fall of 2013.
Robert passed away on November 28, 2013.
It is axiomatic that the best outcomes for cancer patients are associated with early diagnosis and prompt specialized care. Robert’s condition went undiagnosed for approximately three years by the staff at the Fresno VA.
The real tragedy is that nobody in the VA system ever notified Robert that a VA Mesothelioma Center of Excellence headed by one of the world’s leading mesothelioma specialists was located only a couple hours away.
The Finamore family cannot help but believe that, if they had been referred to the center in the initial months that Robert first reported to the Fresno VA with classic asbestos cancer symptoms and findings in 2010, Robert would still be alive today.
Once they finally made it to the West Los Angeles VA on their own in 2013, Robert and Rebecca were blown away by the quality of the care Robert received. Dr. Dean C. Norman, Chief of Staff at the West Los Angeles VA, even took a special interest in Robert’s case and made multiple bedside visits during Robert’s hospitalization.
The Finamore family was very touched by this gesture, and explained the history of their VA experience to Dr. Norman. They urged him to get the word out about Dr. Cameron and the Mesothelioma Center of Excellence so that other vets stricken with asbestos cancer can benefit from the much higher level of care which they offer.
For more information, please contact Rebecca Finamore
(Phone: (503) 317-3610; Email: email@example.com).
John Johnson 68 Year-old Insurance Agent
In 2010, John Johnson was a 68 year old insurance agent living outside of Las Vegas with his wife of 46 years, Sue. They had two adult sons, Ronald and Michael, as well as two grandchildren. John was very active and enjoyed mountain biking on the mountain trails around Las Vegas.
Spring 2010: Las Vegas VA Medical Center
John first noticed chest pain and shortness of breath while mountain biking in 2010. Having served his country as a Marine from 1961 to 1964, John sought medical attention for his symptoms at the VA Medical Center in Las Vegas in the spring of 2010.
He provided a history which included exposure to asbestos in the Marines and in the jobs he held following the service. Unfortunately, the Las Vegas VA failed to perform the tests necessary to diagnose his condition.
Furthermore, John was never made aware that one of the nation’s leading asbestos cancer specialists, Dr. Robert Cameron, heads an asbestos cancer / mesothelioma center of excellence at the West Los Angeles VA Medical Center.
Summer 2011: Long Beach VA Medical Center
John’s condition continued to go undiagnosed and his symptoms worsened. He and Sue moved to Newport Beach, California in the summer of 2011. In August, he sought treatment for his symptoms at the Long Beach VA Medical Center, the center closest to his home.
Based on radiology studies, his doctors suspected mesothelioma and scheduled him for surgery with a thoracic surgeon at the Long Beach VA Medical Center. However, this surgeon was not a specialist in treating mesothelioma. Again, John was not advised about Dr. Cameron and the Mesothelioma Center of Excellence at the West LA VA.
On August 23, 2011, the Long Beach VA surgeon began to operate on John, but quickly aborted believing that the tumor was too advanced to remove. The surgeon later informed John that he had only a couple months to live and that there was nothing any other doctor could do to improve his prognosis.
Fall 2011: Dr. Cameron, West Los Angeles VA Medical Center
Thereafter, John’s son Michael found information about Dr. Cameron through resources unrelated to the VA. Dr. Cameron saw John on an expedited basis on September 14, 2011 and based on his review of the records, Dr. Cameron believed that he could surgically remove the tumor despite its size.
However, John’s prognosis would be compromised by the fact that tumor cells had been released into the body as a result of the aborted procedure performed at the Long Beach VA medical center.
One week later, on September 21, 2011, Dr. Cameron performed a surgery lasting over ten hours in which he was able to remove the entire visible tumor. John then received five weeks of radiation treatments at the West LA VA from November 21 to December 23, 2011.
Unfortunately, John’s condition deteriorated in mid-January 2012 and despite the best efforts of Dr. Cameron and the rest of his team at the West LA VA, John passed away on January 24, 2012.
Based on their discussions with Dr. Cameron, the Johnson family firmly believes that John would still be alive today if his condition had been promptly diagnosed after John first began experiencing symptoms in the spring of 2010.
Unlike the staff at the Las Vegas and Long Beach centers, Dr. Cameron and his team at the West LA VA have the specialized experience necessary to quickly diagnose and treat the disease.
Unfortunately, information about the specialized mesothelioma treatment available at the West LA VA was unknown to the staff of the other centers and was not made accessible to patients through the VA website or other VA resources.
The Johnson family is determined to correct this unfortunate situation and has pledged $500,000 to the cause.
They are requesting that the VA begin by simply doing a better job of educating VA doctors and veterans about the Mesothelioma Treatment Center of Excellence at the West LA VA. They are also requesting that the Center be expanded so it can provide its unsurpassed level of treatment to greater numbers of vets and conduct research and clinical trials that will benefit ALL patients, vets and non-vets, who are diagnosed in the future.
Unfortunately, to date, the Johnson family’s efforts have gone essentially ignored, neither the VA nor West LA VA websites make any mention of the Mesothelioma Treatment Center of Excellence.
For more information, please contact John’s son Michael Johnson
(Phone: (818) 974-1049; Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)
Abe Cherry, 20 Years in the Navy
Louisiana born and bred, Abe Cherry spent 20 years in the U.S. Navy as an aircraft mechanic before retiring as a Chief Petty Officer in 1981.
His next career was in the forest industry in Louisiana where he performed maintenance in paper mills before he retired for the last time in 2006.
"Dr. Cameron Has Saved My Life"
As for his diagnosis and the impact on his life , Abe says: “Dr. Cameron has saved my life. And I’m doing all I can do; that’s the lesson; you do what you have to do. It’s one step at a time.”
A persistent non-productive cough sent him to the doctor In August 2011. A cat scan and biopsy revealed he had mesothelioma. Two rounds of chemotherapy later, Abe heard about Dr. Cameron and flew to Los Angeles for treatment.
In December 2011, Dr. Cameron performed surgery, removing part of his diaphragm and starting him on radiation therapy.
David Vanerhyde, Plumber
In mid-2006, when David woke up one morning with a pain in his chest that quickly went away, he thought it was from a dirt bike accident a year before when he had cracked a rib. But the pain came back a few months later and found he “couldn’t finish a sentence I was so out of breath.”
His doctor thought it was scar tissue from the cracked rib along with “walking pneumonia.” When the “pneumonia” didn’t go away with treatment, a biopsy was performed and he was referred to an oncologist, then a thoracic surgeon.
“The surgeon opened me up and found several tumors all over my chest,” he says. “He told me I was inoperable, said I wouldn’t last a year.”
A friend’s daughter, who had just graduated from UC San Diego Medical School, did some research and recommended Dr. Cameron. At the same time, the pulmonologist he consulted told him: “Until Dr. Cameron says you’re inoperable, don’t believe him.”
May 2007 David met with Dr. Cameron
In May 2007, David met with Dr. Cameron and in June 2007, he operated on David, removing the pleural lining of his left lung and pericardium. David has had a few complications due to the chemotherapy and radiation, none of which have dampened his joy of life.
“I’m ecstatic! Even with struggles, I’m still here. I have a loving wife and children. I’m planning a road trip across the U.S.”
Mesothelioma has dramatically changed David’s life. He was a plumber with his own business and 20 employees.
“I had to let the business go. Sold it to concentrate on my health.”
Then he adds,
“Dr. Cameron is excellent. I wouldn’t be alive if I didn’t have him. That’s what matters."
In December of 2012, David was admitted to UCLA hospital for respiratory failure. Sadly, on December 22, 2012, David lost his six year battle to mesothelioma. He was a wonderful person inside and out and will be greatly missed.
Wally Nielsen, Banker
For Wally Nielsen, the diagnosis of mesothelioma is a mystery.
“I was a banker and that’s the puzzling part.” he explains.
But in August 2010, when Wally was treated for what his doctor thought was pneumonia that didn’t respond to antibiotics, he was referred to a pulmonologist who ordered several scans.
The scans revealed a tumor in his lung. A needle biopsy confirmed he had mesothelioma. “I then went to see Dr. Stuart Nagasawa, an oncologist at Mission Hospital in Mission Viejo, who said that there was only person who could help me and that was Dr. Cameron.”
Wally’s wife Arleen calls the diagnosis a life changer. From a retirement filled with travel, children and grandchildren, the Nielsens now work around the disease that has basically turned into a full time job.
“Wally was my handyman. I didn’t even have to change a light bulb. Now all of that has changed,” she adds.
December 2010: Dr. Cameron Performs Surgery
At age 75, Wally has no regrets about the surgery Dr. Cameron performed in December 2010, even if he is still a bit sore where a rib was removed in the process.
“I’m happy we did it; clearly there are some side effects but it’s better than the alternatives. You’re never perfect,” he says.
Besides surgery, Wally also has been on Interferon shots as part of his treatment.
“I’m here alive because of Dr. Cameron. I’m treated beautifully here and that’s the bottom line. Dr. Cameron and his staff really care about you as a person.”
Wally Nielsen passed away on August 28th, 2012.
Terry Latham, Real Estate Broker
In 1970, when Terry Latham packed up his family and left his retail tobacco shop in England to come to the U.S. to be closer to his sister, he landed in the construction industry in California.
“You don’t know how to react,” Terry says of his diagnosis.
He was referred to an oncologist at City of Hope in Duarte, who recommended total removal of his lung after the biopsy confirmed mesothelioma.
“The oncologist also recommended I see Dr. Cameron,” he adds.
"Dr. Cameron saved my life. He explained everything and we really relied on his knowledge to get us through.” “Best decision ever."
Dr. Cameron is the innovator of the lung-sparing surgical procedure that has become the standard of care. On June 24, 2010, Dr. Cameron operated on Terry.
In 1978, Terry earned his real estate license and several years later became a successful broker. With success came a full life, including travel around the world especially to Poland his wife’s, Maryla, home country.
Early 2010: Terry Tested Positive for Mesothelioma
But in early 2010, Terry began to have a “tight feeling in my chest so they gave me antibiotics, which didn’t help at all.” A chest x-ray didn’t show anything significant so he was sent to a pulmonologist who has a CAT and PET scans performed and drained the fluid that was building up in his lung. The fluid tested positive for mesothelioma.
“You have to be prepared for a different lifestyle with this disease,” Terry explains.
“You have to accept your new life. You get emotional, depressed; you rely on family for everything." "
2010 was the toughest year of our lives, but you charge on and cherish every day you have here.”
September 2015 : Terry is a Featured Speaker at The 5K Walk for Mesothelioma
Terry delivered an inspiring speech at The 4th Annual Walk for Mesothelioma about his six years surviving mesothelioma.. His words provided comfort and hope for families with loved ones stricken with mesothelioma. Listen to his moving words and story at the event below.
Naseem Farag, Chemical Engineer
When Naseem’s brother beckoned him to come to the United States in 1981 from Egypt, he jumped at the chance. Naseem, who had been a chemical engineer and had served in the army in his homeland, started his new life working in his brother’s gas station as a mechanic.
“It was a new beginning for me, an opportunity,” he explains; one that eventually led him to owning a successful gas station in Ontario and several other businesses.
June 2008: Naseem's Health in Decline
By June 2008, Naseem had lost a lot of weight and his overall health was in decline. This was very difficult for a robust man who was used to working 18-hour days. His declining health forced him sell his gas station and businesses to concentrate on getting better.
Soon, as is typical in many mesothelioma patients, he had difficulty breathing and was coughing. His doctor said he had “walking pneumonia” and put him on antibiotics. When that didn’t work, he went to an urgent care clinic where an x-ray showed that his right lung was cloudy. He was admitted to the hospital and his lung drained of more than three and a half liters of fluid. The doctors told him he had a virus and more fluid was drained from his lung.
Diagnosed with Mesothelioma
A biopsy finally diagnosed mesothelioma. He was prescribed chemotherapy and “the doctor gave me nine months to live.” A friend from Naseem’s church recommended Dr. Cameron as did the surgeon he consulted at St. Joseph Hospital in Orange.
“We made an appointment before we even left St. Joseph,” adds Naseem’s wife, Sanna.
January 2010: Dr. Cameron Operated on Naseem
In January 2010, Dr. Cameron operated on Naseem. “Dr. Cameron is a wonderful guy. He knows what to do. He’s a lifesaver, he extends your life,” Naseem says.
“The road is long and what gets you through the hard times is the support of family and friends,” he adds.
“Our life is in God’s hands. We take it day by day. Meeting others Dr. Cameron has helped gives you hope. Telling our story helps our emotions. We believe in Dr. Cameron.”
Of Note: PMC is extremely grateful to Tony and Janet Chomo for their numerous donations to support Dr. Robert Cameron's mesothelioma research efforts at the Punch Worthington Research Laboratory at UCLA, funded by PMC.
Tony Chomo, Maintenance Worker
In August 2006, Tony was involved in a motorcycle accident. But, his injuries seemed minor, and Tony went home. One month later, he found himself having a hard time breathing normally.
Tony went to the emergency room at Northridge Hospital. An EKG ruled out a heart attack, but fluid was found surrounding his lung, and was drained. Tests on the fluid revealed abnormal mesothelial cancer cells, and Tony was diagnosed was malignant pleural mesothelioma.
Tony Chomo and his wife, Janet, moved from Massachusetts to California in 1977. The day finally came when Tony, a career maintenance worker and licensed plumber, had all he could take of the brutal East Coast winters. The family, now consisting of four grown children and nine grandchildren, settled in Simi Valley.
A friend told Tony about Dr. Robert Cameron at UCLA’s David Geffen School of Medicine, and Tony met Dr. Cameron in October 2006.
Treating Mesothelioma as a Chronic Condition
For Tony, the eternal optimist, the family provider, the rock of stability who could nonetheless let loose on the open road atop 1200cc’s of motorcycle muscle, the options seemed slim, until Dr. Cameron talked about treating mesothelioma as a chronic condition which Tony would have to deal with the remainder of his life—like high blood pressure or diabetes. The focus became choosing a treatment that would hopefully extend his life and allow him to maintain his quality of life.
Dr. Cameron: “I told Tony that his disease appeared to be limited just to that part of the chest and did not have obvious spread to his lymph nodes. He was a good candidate for the pleurectomy with decortication procedure done, so I recommended that.”
Tony had the pleurectomy with decortication surgery on January 9, 2007. Dr. Cameron, removed all visible tumor attached to Tony’s chest cavity and organs.
"Tony required ten days of recovery in the hospital. Tony responded reasonably well."
"Many people have problems with abnormal heart rhythms, pain, coughing up phlegm, and that kind of thing. But he seemed to get through that reasonably well. He’s a pretty strong person."
"Then Tony did radiation on the body. What’s really tricky about radiation is that you technically want to radiate every place where the tumor was present. But that involves every single surface of the lung, the diaphragm, the middle of the chest and the ribs. That’s a big area."
"Also, the lung itself is very sensitive to radiation damage. So you have to have a lot of fancy treatment planning to be able to deliver radiation to all those areas and yet not hurt the lung.”
Tony is proud to say he has not taken any prescription pain medication since February 2007. He feels soreness and occasional numbness at the incision site but manages it without medication.
June 2007: Finished Radiation
In June 2007 he finished radiation with Dr. Michael Selch at UCLA. By July 2007 he started the next phase of treatment, daily injections of interferon alpha. Initially he felt tired and fatigued from the injections, but this has since improved.
In November 2007, Tony grew concerned when a CT scan revealed possible fluid in the lower left lung. However, tests determined it was not fluid development, but rather air that had accumulated, resulting in a partial collapse of one lung.
Inflammation due to radiation was still visible, but this has since improved, as well. There is currently no sign that the cancer has spread. Tony has monthly comprehensive blood tests along with scans and the Mesomark blood test every three months.
Tony tries to go on walks two to three days a week to stay active. He tires easily and notices significantly decreased breathing capacity. He loves riding his motorcycle with his buddies whenever he gets a chance and has gone on several bike rides with a friend in the mountains and in Ojai.
A Loving Couple
Tony and Jan continue their active and adventurous lifestyle. They own Harley-Davidson and Suzuki motorcycles and enjoy taking the motorcycles on tours and trips. Prior to becoming motorcycle enthusiasts, they owned boats and would go scuba diving.
A seasoned dirt bike rider, Tony enjoys the thrill of showing his grandchildren how to ride off-road. And, no job or occupation is as dear to Tony as the role of “Grandpa” and babysitter. The Chomos’ home is constantly filled with the laughter and chatter of rambunctious youngsters.
Prior to his diagnosis, Tony had no plans of retiring, but since his surgery and radiation, Tony made the decision to cut out work completely, which was one of the hardest adjustments.
Tony’s life has changed, but he faces those changes with fortitude and optimism. His surgery has given him the precious gift of time, which he lovingly spends with his children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.
Tony passed away on Wednesday, June 20th, 2012.
Judge Jacob Jager
Judge Jacob Jager
It’s a beautiful day in San Clemente. The kind of day that might usually be spent fishing with the grandkids off his boat in Dana Point Harbor, but for retired Judge Jacob Jager, those boating days are on hold as he finishes his post-operative radiation treatments.
While the Judge enjoys the view surrounded by his gracious family, wife Norma, daughter Tammy, and grandsons Ashton and Hunter, he continues to wage a determined battle against malignant pleural mesothelioma.
Although his radiation treatments have taken 35 pounds off his athletic frame, Judge Jager still commands the room and positively lights up for his delightful grandsons.
Judge Jager continued to lead an active and fulfilling lifestyle, but in April of 2010, the Judge began to experience trouble breathing and sought medical help.
In August, severe chest pains finally lead to a battery of tests revealing a right-sided pleural effusion with an underlying right lung consolidation. A mass was also noted. In October, a tissue biopsy and thoracentesis confirmed malignant mesothelioma.
That diagnosis began a family commitment, spearheaded by daughter Tammy, to find the best possible care and treatment available. Like her father, Tammy possesses the intellect and tenacity to not only educate herself on this type of cancer, but to explore all possible treatments throughout the United States.
Both father and daughter are native Californians, and their love for the West Coast escalated even more when they learned that most East Coast mesothelioma surgeons promoted a radical surgery in which the entire lung among other vital body parts were amputated.
It was Judge Jager’s originating oncologist, Dr. Lloyd Nagasawa, who first mentioned thoracic surgeon, Dr. Robert Cameron of UCLA Medical School.
Since 1994, Dr. Cameron has been a pioneer of the “pleurectomy and decortication (P/D) procedure,” the goal of which is to remove all visible tumor and spare the underlying lung. He has performed over 300 of these “rational” operations.
With her usual diligence, Tammy researched both the procedure and Dr. Cameron. The family warmed to the idea that Dr. Cameron’s procedure was designed to spare the lung, since Judge Jager’s lung was functioning normally.
They learned that, while the procedure is much less "radical" for the patient, it is a more lengthy and difficult procedure for the surgeon. They believed that Dr. Cameron's commitment to this procedure, which is designed to afford patients a much better quality of life with use of both lungs, speaks volumes about Dr. Cameron's dedication to his patients.
But most of all, they appreciated Dr. Cameron’s medical philosophy. As Tammy put it, “Dr. Cameron treats mesothelioma as a chronic disease – something that can be treated and managed with the ultimate goal of prolonging and increasing the quality of life. A ‘cure’ sounds great, but unfortunately from what I know about meso it’s unrealistic at this stage.”
When they met with Dr. Cameron, Tammy was positive that they had made the right choice. She recalled that Dr. Cameron very patiently and candidly set out the nuts and bolts of his procedure without sugar-coating it.
The Judge and Tammy felt reassured. “We had great confidence in him from the beginning-- truly a brilliant man,” gushed Judge Jager.
In November, Dr. Cameron operated on the Judge. Like any major surgery, recovery was not without its hiccups. But through it all, the family’s will remained strong.
The experience, instead of a dark and foreboding cloud that brought everyone down, showed that with the right blend of medical expertise, a solid strategy, perseverance and abiding hope, a medical crisis can also help bind the family ties even tighter.
San Clemente, CA