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Yvette in the 8% Club of Survivors
Yvette called herself part of the “8% club” of people with mesothelioma. The adjectives to describe the people who comprise the group include: tenacious, relentless, persevering, resourceful, determined and maybe a little stubborn. All of these adjectives fit Yvette, a long-distance runner who doesn’t know when to quit.
According to Yvette, only 8% of people with pleural mesothelioma live for at least three years after their diagnosis. The percentage lowered as Yvette passed away after living for 8 years past her diagnosis.
The mortality rate of the cancer is dishearteningly high: roughly 60% of people don’t even survive for one year; only around 20% survive for two years. Just 5% survive for at least five years. All of these figures are according to a 2017 study published by Lung Cancer International on the U.S. National Library of Medicine website.
However, Yvette’s story is an inspiring one for others afflicted by this disease. By telling her experience, Yvette hoped to help others through the “marathon” that she calls her battle with cancer.
“Remember … the race won’t always be easy,” she said in an interview with Mesothelioma Guide.
Snapshot of Yvette King’s Mesothelioma Survival
Chemotherapy; Extrapleural pneumonectomy surgery; radiation; spinal surgery
Her Road to Mesothelioma
Yvette was a wife and mother of two children. She lived in Bowie, Maryland. However, the bread crumbs for her mesothelioma led to well before she was married or became a mother.
Yvette was born in Sacramento, California, and moved to North Dakota at a young age. Her stepfather sold equipment that likely included asbestos, which is the only known cause of mesothelioma. So she was at risk of secondhand exposure through him.
“I don’t know why I got (mesothelioma) and no one else in my family did,” she said.
The disease also has a long latency period, meaning it takes a while to develop. Most experts say mesothelioma takes between 20 and 50 years to form following asbestos exposure.
“I thought I had runner’s asthma,” she said. “It was like my breathing was shallow. I would kind of skip a breath.”
Yvette noticed breathing issues at least five years before her diagnosis on Oct. 6, 2015. She credited them to allergies. However, the coughing and back pain was so bad that she couldn’t even lay down on her back. Finally, she went to the doctor and — after a series of tests — was told the truth.
Pleural mesothelioma is a cancer of the pleura, which is a thin membrane that wraps around each lung and lines the interior of the chest wall. The pleura has two sidings, each with cells, and asbestos can enter the body and irritate these cells. When aggravated by asbestos, the cells often mutate and form tumors. These tumors then spread to other areas of the body, most often the nearest lung.
Yvette’s mesothelioma was already at the border of stage 2 and stage 3, meaning the cancer had metastasized into the lung cavity and affected her right lung. Surgery wasn’t an immediate option, so she had to undergo chemotherapy with hopes of shrinking the disease.
“When I first went in, I was told if I didn’t do any treatment that they’d only give me six months (to live),” she said. “I told them I’m not giving up. I’ll treat it like training for a marathon.”
Long Treatment Trail
Yvette did her research and prepared for chemotherapy by looking up testimonials and learning about the side effects. She understood how the treatment would affect her — and had a counter ready.
“Every time I got sick, I didn’t lay down,” she said. “I got up and got on the treadmill and ran.”
Since chemotherapy attacks cancerous cells and non-cancerous ones, the body’s immune system is crippled and prone to other concerns. That’s why chemotherapy is a challenging treatment. Staying active during chemotherapy rebuilt Yvette’s muscles and kept her body strong.
Once the tumors were contained and surgery was possible, she had an extrapleural pneumonectomy, a common procedure for pleural mesothelioma patients. The operation took place at Anne Arundel Medical Center in Maryland and involved removing the affected lung. On March 8, 2016, almost exactly five months after her diagnosis, Yvette had her right lung removed.
“After surgery,” she said, “I was diagnosed no cancer in my left lung. I still had two tumors on my liver from the onset. Then my final stage of my treatment plan was to seal everything off with radiation.”
On Aug. 4, 2016, she finished her last radiation appointment and thought she finished cancer treatment.
She was wrong.
Not even two months after Yvette and her doctors considered her done with cancer treatment, she started feeling back pain again.
“I knew I wasn’t supposed to be having this anymore,” she said, noting she relayed the symptom to her primary doctor.
Finding and removing all mesothelioma tumors with one surgery is difficult. Additionally, it’s tough to know early where the cancer has spread. Spinal cancer was the diagnosis.
“When they found it, I was happy,” she said. “Remember, this is a marathon. The race won’t always be easy.”
Yvette underwent surgery in May 2017 to remove the tumors at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. She had some of her vertebrae removed and fused back together. Afterward, she had a stroke due to blood clots from the surgery. For a brief time, she was on life support.
Even that couldn’t stop Yvette.
“God has always shown me the way and I always wanted to set a legacy for my kids,” she said. “I wanted to show them that we need to keep going and not give up.
“Knowing I was still alive was what kept me going.”
Life for Yvette Now
Yvette had a computed tomography scan and positron emission tomography scan at the beginning of 2019. Doctors found no new cancer, a blessing for a mesothelioma warrior who fought through so many obstacles.
Following her initial diagnosis, Yvette met with lawyers to uncover precisely how she developed mesothelioma — and possibly to know who was responsible. She said the attorneys estimated that asbestos exposure between the ages of 10 and 16 was the culprit. She then pursued legal action despite her initial objections.
“I didn’t sign up (for legal help) myself. My best friend did it for me,” she said. “I was convinced. … It has been a blessing because some of the money I got paid for the surgeries and other expenses.”
In 2021, Yvette had a recurrence of cancer. This is unfortunately common for people with mesothelioma. Removing the entire disease is challenging, and many patients see their cancer return years after they got a clean bill of health.
She had a never-give-up attitude, though, already talking about chemotherapy and enrolling in a clinical trial.
“I am working hard with my exercise to build muscle and strength for my chemotherapy fight!” she exclaimed. “It is during this time of my life’s journey that admission into a clinical trial would be beneficial. My goal is to get placed into a trial so we can have a better prognosis on future treatments.”
Yvette told her story because she knew others — now and in the future — are enduring the same struggles. She encouraged people with mesothelioma to contact lawyers and seek compensation if they haven’t done so. She wanted them to “get a circle built up” of family, friends, doctors and attorneys.
“Do your homework and get a strong medical team involved,” Yvette said. “Go to a hospital that specializes in mesothelioma.”
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