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A Mother’s Story
Kendra Ferreira, of Rhode Island, enjoyed making and teaching art while living a great life with her family before she was diagnosed with peritoneal mesothelioma in 2001.
More than two decades later, she is healthy and continues to have a passion for art and her family.
Kendra is the mother of three boys, all of whom were teenagers at the time of her diagnosis. They were essential for pushing her to beat her diagnosis.
She also stayed positive, did her research, found the best doctor to treat her and was open to clinical trials. She truly took her survival into her own hands.
Nobody expects to be diagnosed with mesothelioma, and early symptoms are often perceived as something minor. Kendra had been experiencing abdominal pains and trouble with digestion before her abdomen began swelling. The swelling was due to fluid buildup called ascites. The tumors in her abdominal lining were responsible. According to her, the swelling became so severe it looked like she was a few months pregnant, so it was at that point that she decided to see her doctor.
“He did some tests, they thought it was ovarian cancer,” she said. “Then when they did surgery, they sent it to pathology and realized it was mesothelioma. I had no idea [what mesothelioma was]. I had never even heard of it.”
Many people underestimate the rarity of peritoneal mesothelioma. There are only approximately 400 cases per year. By comparison, there are nearly 22,000 cases of ovarian cancer diagnosed every year. It makes sense that Kendra had never heard of it. She was very candid about her feelings regarding her diagnosis, saying, “I was shocked. I was 42 years old. Absolutely shocked. I was petrified. I said, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m not ready to die.’”
Kendra had some initial trouble finding a mesothelioma doctor with the ability to treat her. The doctor who diagnosed her wasn’t a mesothelioma specialist so she was sent to several treatment centers on the East Coast. She traveled from Rhode Island to New York where she met with Dr. Robert Taub of Columbia University Medical Center.
“I liked him immediately,” she explained. “I met with the surgeon, I really liked both of them. They gave me hope. They were really positive. They thought they could help me, so I decided to go with that clinical trial in New York.”
Snapshot of Kendra Ferreira’s Mesothelioma Survival
Clinical trial surgery; chemotherapy
Kendra’s Treatment Plan
Kendra had a unique experience with chemotherapy that led to her survival and highlights the importance of seeing a doctor experienced with the treatment of mesothelioma.
Dr. Taub is a respected medical oncologist at the Columbia University Medical Center specializing in peritoneal mesothelioma. It was Dr. Taub who developed Kendra’s successful treatment plan.
When Kendra was diagnosed, there weren’t any standard treatments for mesothelioma yet. With Dr. Taub’s blessing, Kendra decided to participate in a clinical trial that used an experimental chemotherapy drug.
Her treatment plan was a complex regimen of chemotherapy, radiation and novel antitumor medicine. She underwent:
- Exploratory surgery (to determine extent of cancer)
- Eight weeks of chemotherapy
- Cytoreductive surgery and Heated intraperitoneal chemotherapy (HIPEC)
- Four weeks of interferon-gamma therapy
- A second exploratory surgery and a second HIPEC procedure
- Five weeks of radiation therapy
Kendra’s treatment was extensive.
“It was a lot,” she admits. “And the radiation was the absolute worst part.”
Staying Healthy and Positive
Kendra is an advocate for a healthy diet with plenty of exercise as well as keeping the right kind of mindset. Her food choices were also an important part of her recovery because peritoneal mesothelioma can cause issues with digestion.
“I try to eat really healthy,” said Kendra. “I find if I eat the wrong foods, I have trouble. I love yoga. I take vitamins. I try to eat organic.”
She also credits her mindset to her long mesothelioma survival. Kendra made the decision to fight and to believe she could beat her diagnosis.
Regarding her survivorship she said, “I think that a positive attitude was the most important thing. Keeping the faith, keeping a positive attitude that you’ll be okay.”
“I don’t let the small things bother me anymore,” she explained. “I feel like I’m more relaxed about things.”
Support and Motivation
The support of Kendra’s family was integral to her positivity throughout her diagnosis. Her children inspired her to fight her disease with all she had. At the time, her boys were moving on to SATs and college.
“I can’t go anywhere,” she said. “I have to be here for these kids.”
Kendra also received a lot of support from the art community she is a part of and was keen to credit the medical staff that took care of her: “The hospital staff, the chemo nurses, the doctors, were really compassionate people.”
For Kendra, finding patient support and something worth living for go hand-in-hand with staying positive.
Her desire to be around for her children inspired her to do everything she could to survive, but little things like continuing her art and letting people help her also contributed to her will to live.
Kendra is a loving mother and wife who overcame the odds of mesothelioma. Her story is one of humility, and like every other patient, one of bravery. She has expressed a new appreciation for life and does her best to take in the little things.
Most recently, she took a trip with her family to Italy, proof that she’s living life to the fullest.
Kendra said finding out that the treatments worked gave her a new perspective on life: “It’s very refreshing, very enlightening. It makes you want to do things for other people. Makes you want to do things for your life, and the world and the people around you.”
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