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.
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.
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.”
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.”
Update: 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.
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.
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.”
Update: Wally Nielsen passed away on August 28th, 2012.
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. 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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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. 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.
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. 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.
Update: Tony passed away on Wednesday, June 20th, 2012.
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
At age 12, Martha Munoz’s father uprooted the family from a comfortable life in Mexico to bring 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.
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 confirmed 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.
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 in life to hear Dr. Cameron say: ‘We have found a cure for mesothelioma lung cancer. You can now be cancer free!’”