Posts Tagged ‘Dr. Valerie W. Rusch’

Living with Meso – Charlene’s story, Part 2

26 Mar 2008 by under People

Charlene’s Fight

When Charlene Kaforey, 48, was diagnosed with pleural mesothelioma in July 2007, she immediately began seeking out information and treatment options.

The prognosis for mesothelioma is still bleak. There is no cure, and most studies estimate survival time between 4-12 months, depending on the stage of presentation. Charlene’s mesothelioma was diagnosed relatively early, so she was hopeful.

She visited mesothelioma specialist Dr. David J. Sugarbaker at Brigham & Women’s Hospital in Boston, Mass., Dr. Valerie W. Rusch at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in , and at the NYU Cancer Institute.

Immediately, doctors talked about extrapleural pneumonectomy, a surgery to remove the entire lung, entire diaphragm, and the lining of the chest cavity and the heart. Surgery would be followed by 6 weeks of radiation, and possibly chemotherapy. One doctor even talked about performing a heated chemotherapy wash of the chest cavity while on the operating table. At that time, they believed Charlene was a stage I, and such surgeries could give her a 40 percent chance of a 5 year survival. One doctor mentioned getting her as much as 10 years.

One of the doctors talked about limiting the surgery to a pleurectomy/decortication, a technique to remove the parietal pleura from the lung. The median survival after pleurectomy for malignant mesothelioma ranges from 6-21 months, and 9-40 percent of patients survive up to 2 years. However in later stages, the survival rates are almost identical between the two surgeries.

Research is still unclear as to whether extra-pleural pneumonectomy provides significantly greater benefits than pleurectomy, and if either is significantly more effective than non-surgical options.

Charlene didn’t have a lot of tumor bulk, so she was sent for a mediastinoscopy, a biopsy surgery that allows doctors to view the middle of the chest cavity and to remove lymph nodes from between the lungs to test them for cancer or infection. They found that Charlene did have lymph node involvement.

“I went from a Stage I to Stage III overnight,” she says. “It was shocking.”

Because of the lymph node involvement, doctors recommended she postpone considering pleurectomy or pneumonectomy and undergo chemotherapy. Survival rates from either surgery for a Stage III patient is much less, and only 25 percent survive 20 months, with less than 10 percent surviving 5 years. Both surgeries involve significant mortality rates and require 6-9 months recovery time.

“Looking at it now, I feel in some ways that having the lymph node involvement was a godsend for me,” Charlene says. “I mean, my condition was more serious, but because I was doing the chemotherapy, it gave me time to look for more information and to really think more about my options. Otherwise, I would have rushed into a very serious surgery with a long, difficult recovery and I’d probably be without a lung and diaphragm right now.”

Charlene offers one word of caution to meso patients.

“While you may feel time is of the essence, don’t rush into a procedure until you really understand what is involved, and what benefits you can expect to receive, what the risks and complications are, how long and difficult the recovery will be,”she said.

She talked to other meso patients and read everything she could get her hands on. Quality of remaining life is a big issue to consider.

“I realized that I might have only 18 to 30 months maximum to live, and that I would spend at least 9 months in a brutal recovery. I was feeling good with little to no symptoms. I couldn’t justify giving up my good health to surgery, knowing I may never feel good again, and might have only another 9 months of poor quality life after recovering from the surgery,” Charlene says.

Next: Charlene explores alternative medicine