Thanksgiving is a time for expressing appreciation. Family and friends meet, sit around the dinner table, share delicious food and enjoy one another’s company.
For some people, holiday is another milestone in survival — and another chance to reflect on a long, difficult journey battling a rare cancer.
Mesothelioma is an aggressive disease, attributed to around 3,300 deaths in the United States each year. The prognosis for patients is between a few months to a few years.
However, with early detection and high-rate treatment from a specialist, patients can live long past their initial life expectancy.
Three patients — Tobyn, Alexis and Yvette — have each survived the cancer for multiple years to this point. For this Thanksgiving, they shared with Mesothelioma Guide what they’re most thankful for.
We wish to relay their sentiments to everyone else and hope these stories can inspire current mesothelioma patients. If you or a loved one has this cancer, it can understandably put a damper on holiday spirits. However, courage and love in the face of such adversity can bring a community even closer, and these three mesothelioma survivor stories include both.
Finding Purpose After Survival
This is Tobyn’s fourth Thanksgiving since her Stage 2 pleural mesothelioma diagnosis, which she received in April 2016. Her treatment involved pleurectomy with decortication — a lung-sparing surgery that removed the lining of her lung, plus parts of her diaphragm and pericardium — and heated intraoperative chemotherapy.
In August of the same year, she spoke with Mesothelioma Guide about her initial recovery and the first six weeks following surgery. Her positive attitude and thankfulness for her present and future was evident in her words.
“Frankly, this wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be,” Tobyn said during the interview. “I am not going to run in the Olympics, but I can walk about a quarter mile now, food is great and I beat my computer at chess yesterday.”
More than three years later, she has beaten far more than a computer. She has far outlived the general life expectancy for mesothelioma.
Now, in 2019, Tobyn is thankful for more reasons than just her ability to walk, eat and checkmate artificial intelligence. She has, in her own words, a new “purpose.”
“I am thankful to still be here and I am very thankful for my foster baby, Abigale,” Tobyn said recently in an email to Mesothelioma Guide. “She brings great joy even if I miss sleep. But having a purpose outside myself and the illness has brought me a new zest and sure beats the hell out of sitting around worrying and holding my breath every four months.”
Abigale is 4 months old, and Tobyn has been her foster mom since Day 2.
“I sincerely believe she came to me for a reason and, ‘I will survive,’ to quote a good song,” Tobyn concluded. “Many blessings and wishes for joy to all.”
Alexis and her husband
Noticing the Little Things
Twelve years have passed since Alexis (pictured above with her husband) learned she had peritoneal mesothelioma. At age 37, she underwent the aggressive cytoreduction surgery combined with heated intraperitoneal chemotherapy.
She called the treatment grueling and challenging, but she’s thankful for her medical team and grateful to have more days and years on this earth with her husband.
“It is what the holiday is supposed to be about: reflecting on our blessings and expressing our thankfulness for them,” Alexis said. “Being a survivor, I am thankful each day for still being a part of the living world. The intensity of that gratitude only grows as the years pass, because I never want to take that gift for granted.”
Alexis recently endured additional issues. She had Stage 4 congestive heart failure and Stage 3 kidney disease. However, she spoke to Mesothelioma Guide last month on a podcast and said her “heart is definitely getting stronger,” which in turn is improving her kidneys.
(Editor’s Note: Listen to our podcast with Alexis below)
In her latest recovery, she’s enjoying the experiences and feelings that most people take for granted.
“I am thankful for the strength that is returning to my body from my most recent health challenges, which has allowed me to get back on my scooter to enjoy the wind in my hair and the sun on my face,” Alexis said. “And I am thankful for my husband, who not only walks beside me on every part of my journey in this life but also rides alongside me on his own bike so we can share adventures together.
“Most of all, I am thankful for those I have met along the way who have allowed me to be some small part of their own personal journey. Sharing our experiences and hope for one another is an incredible gift.”
No Shortage of Words
Yvette (pictured above) was diagnosed with pleural mesothelioma in October 2015. A borderline Stage 3 cancer meant time was running out for her to undergo aggressive treatment. Chemotherapy shrank her disease to a manageable level for surgery.
“I remember it like it was yesterday, the day when I was diagnosed with cancer,” Yvette said to Mesothelioma Guide. “This was the beginning of a new chapter in my life! We battled through challenging times when things looked real grim.”
Then she had extrapleural pneumonectomy, which removes the lung closest to the origin of the mesothelioma. By the time this cancer reaches Stage 3, the tumors have duplicated and spread to the nearby lung. The organ is diseased, and removing it is the quickest and most effective treatment option.
In 2016, she had spinal cancer. In 2017, she underwent another surgery to remove tumors. Then she had blood clots, suffered a stroke and briefly was on life support.
Through all the medical issues, Yvette kept going. She called herself part of the “8 percent club”, meaning only that number of pleural mesothelioma patients live for three years after their diagnosis.
She’s appreciative of that — and so much more, evident by her sending a three-page Microsoft Word document of why she’s thankful during the holidays.
“Every day is a new beginning where I get the opportunity to create new healthy rhythms of living better, stronger and more knowledgeable about my disease so I can experience another splendid day of living,” she said.
On the list of her gratitudes is family and friends, work colleagues, her medical team and simply being around for a holiday celebration. Below is an edited excerpt of Yvette’s letter to Mesothelioma Guide:
“Having my family at my side both at home and afar is a blessing. No matter where they are, I receive overflowing support, helping hands and listening ears. There’s always a shoulder to cry on and moments filled with laughter and celebrations. With heaps of love, hugs, prayers, doctor visits (bonding time), group chats, texts and chatting via Facetime, I am always surrounded with love and company. … Having my friends in my corner brings sheer joy to my heart and fills the void left by distant family members. I am excited and appreciate every opportunity to spend time with my friends.
“My life is constantly evolving as a Meso cancer survivor working in the real world, and this keeps me humble. I am blessed to continue my professional work teleworking as a graphic artist. The opportunity to continue work keeps my brain functioning well as I build new neurons and improve critical thinking skills. I not only share creative zeal with colleagues around the world, but stay connected with my professional lifelines. This interaction keeps me going and strengthens and encourages me to shoot for the stars in everything I do!
“But this wouldn’t be possible if I didn’t have a village made up of a fine group of people — my employer, customers and co-workers who give me the love, respect and support I need to keep on fighting through it all! Thank you for being a vessel of hope and faith through my journey of healing.
“Sadly, this month I received news that one of my dearest friends and colleagues for over 13 years was diagnosed with cancer. He reached out to me for guidance about my journey, medical team, hospital affiliation and any information, diet and exercise regimen that helped me through my long treatment. We reminisced on my journey through treatments and back-to-back surgeries. … During my challenges, he was there for me providing support through tough periods. Now it’s my turn to shift gears and focus on helping him by first gathering information that will help him decide what hospital and team of doctors would be right for him to start cancer treatment and prepare for the biggest battle of his lifetime and win the cancer fight! My prayers and support will be with him every step of the way until he crosses the finish line.”
Tell Us Your Mesothelioma Survival Story
We at Mesothelioma Guide cherish the opportunity to relay stories of hope, courage and inspiration about surviving this disease. The three above are perfect examples that people can beat this cancer. There are more, too. Our free Survivors Guide includes other stories of hope.
We also know there are more inspirational stories of mesothelioma survivors, and we’d love to tell those on our website. By telling your story to others, you can help newly diagnosed mesothelioma patients find the strength to outlast their prognosis.
If you’re a mesothelioma survivor or the loved one of a survivor, consider reaching out to our content team. Our writer, Devin Golden, can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For everyone reading — whether you’re a mesothelioma survivor, newly diagnosed patient, caregiver of a patient or the loved one of a person with this cancer — our team at Mesothelioma Guide wishes you a happy Thanksgiving filled with family, friends, love, warmth and happiness.
And please remember: We are here to help you fight and beat your cancer in any way possible.
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