When she was 26 years old, Jodi Page was diagnosed with malignant pleural mesothelioma. She has faced incredible odds, but continues to overcome them.

An Unusual Diagnosis

Jodi Page’s diagnosis was especially uncommon even for a disease as rare as mesothelioma. She was an extremely unlikely target for a disease that usually affects elderly men.

Jodi was diagnosed at the age of 26, but she had a tenacity to survive that couldn’t be broken despite the hardships she faced down the road.

Jodi moved to Minnesota when she was five. She had a typical childhood growing up in Albertville, which was a small farm town. She’s also part of a big family—she’s the second eldest daughter out of eight children, three girls and five boys. Her parents also adopted her cousin when they moved to Minnesota, adding another member to the family.

Jodi credits her family as an invaluable support arm for her survival and getting through the emotional trauma of receiving her diagnosis. She also credits her doctors and the treatment she received for surviving her original prognosis by over a decade.

Jodi's Survival

   

Getting the Diagnosis

Jodi battled depression and anxiety in her early twenties, but 1999 marked a turning point for her emotionally — she was finally getting her life under control. She was a part-time driving instructor and was ready to take the next big steps in her life. She had a friend who had recently moved into the city and was looking for a roommate, so Jodi took the offer.

“It was in the spring of 1999 that I decided to move into an apartment in Minneapolis,” she explains. “I got along well with the roommates, we did a lot of activities and things together. I felt like my life was heading in the direction that I wanted it to.”

Shortly thereafter, Jodi had lost her job teaching kids how to drive because of a back injury, but she didn’t let it hold her back. She quickly got another job and her future was looking bright.

Doctors Suspect Pneumonia

Later that year, in October, Jodi went to the ER because she was experiencing weakness, fever and trouble breathing. The doctors told her she had pneumonia. All of her symptoms were identical to those of a person with pneumonia, but unfortunately, they were also the same symptoms of something much more harmful.

“After I had completed the antibiotics, I was feeling better, but a couple of weeks later I got sick again,” said Jodi. Her symptoms had come back, this time with chest pains. “This time I went to my primary care physician, and he said I had pneumonia again.”

The condition that Jodi’s doctors had pegged as pneumonia was actually pleural mesothelioma.

“My doctor saw some odd coloration on my X-ray, around my left lung,” said Jodi. Luckily, her doctor did some further investigation regarding the scans. “It was on the top of the lung whereas pneumonia is on the bottom of the lung. I was told in December that I had cancer.”

Jodi’s improper diagnosis doesn’t discredit her doctors—it only serves to illustrate the aggravating difficulty of diagnosing mesothelioma. This is especially true for general physicians, and even more so when a patient, like Jodi, doesn’t fit the typical profile for that disease.

The Power of Second Opinions

“The oncologist did say that if I wanted a second opinion, he would approve me getting one,” said Jodi.

“He said I just had to tell him where I wanted to go for a second opinion if that’s what I wanted to do. And to check with my insurance to see where we wanted to go. I went down to Rochester, Minn., to the Mayo Clinic.”

Jodi’s general oncologist did something many oncologists may not do—he put a second opinion on the table. It was February, four months after Jodi’s doctors told her she had pneumonia, when she decided to get a second opinion at the Mayo Clinic.

Mesothelioma patients should always consider seeking a second opinion and absolutely always see a specialist. Jodi’s initial oncologist was not a specialist, so she made a decision that would ultimately lead to her beating her original prognosis by over a decade. This is one of the greatest ways Jodi took her prognosis into her own hands.

Offering some words of wisdom that ring true for every newly diagnosed mesothelioma patient, Jodi said,

“It was smart to get a second opinion. I’ve learned that doctors don’t know everything, contrary to popular belief. You don’t have to stay with a doctor that you don’t like. That’s why there’s so many doctors out there.”

Jodi’s dad was with her when she went to the Mayo Clinic to learn she actually had a good shot at fighting her cancer. Jodi’s first general oncologist had told her she had stage 3 or 4 mesothelioma. However, the specialists at the Mayo Clinic restaged her mesothelioma at Stage 2 and told her she was eligible for surgery. They could now conduct an extrapleural pneumonectomy (EPP) to remove the cancer along with the affected lung. She was given time to think it over, but it didn’t take Jodi long to figure out what she wanted to do.

“I called them back and said ‘let’s do this.’”

Jodi's Treatment Plan

Jodi’s doctors took an aggressive treatment approach with her because she was young and healthy enough to weather them. Youth is an advantage with mesothelioma because young people are typically healthy; however, older patients who are also healthy stand to benefit from treatment the way Jodi did. Additionally, age doesn’t equate to invincibility, as Jodi can testify—she still had her fair shares of struggles with treatment.

The EPP was the foundation of Jodi’s treatment plan. She had her lung, lymph nodes and diaphragm removed along with all the cancer the surgeons could find. The rest of her treatments relied on chemotherapy and radiation to kill any cancer cells missed by surgery and prevent tumors from growing back. But first, Jodi had to recover from her surgery.

EPP Recovery

Jodi spent a week in the hospital after her EPP. The recovery period is nearly as important as the surgery itself because a full recovery ensures the surgery works.

Jodi’s recovery wasn’t easy. As she recounts, “They would try to get me up to walk around, and I would take ten steps and think I was going to die because I couldn’t breathe. The simplest things were hard, I couldn’t stand because my body wasn’t strong enough to support me standing up. I had to sit down in the shower.”

After an EPP, patients are required to start walking as soon as possible along with doing breathing exercises to keep their remaining lung clear and healthy. The physical therapy process also keeps the body strong to fight potential infections and speed the healing process. “It was uncomfortable,” Jodi said. “It was an interesting week. I came home and started to recover there.”

Chemotherapy and Radiation

At the time of Jodi’s diagnosis, Alimta, the standard chemotherapy for mesothelioma patients, hadn’t been approved yet. She had to opt for a clinical trial to get any kind of chemotherapy. She was supposed to get chemotherapy in the spring, but had to put it off until the summer due to injuries she sustained in a car accident.

“I did one round of chemo at the time, and I got violently sick off of the chemo treatment and ended up back in the hospital because of that,” said Jodi. “My oncologist decided that because it was in clinical trial phases, and because of my reaction to it, it would be beneficial for me not to do any more chemo treatments. We stopped chemo.”

Her experience with chemotherapy highlights an important part of clinical trials that all mesothelioma patients should be aware of: treatment can be stopped at any time.

Jodi’s doctors, however, still wanted to prevent her disease from spreading. They wanted prolong the success of surgery as long as possible. Jodi began radiation therapy in August of that year to accomplish that. She had radiation twice a day for three weeks and is thankful that she did.

Accepting Help is Essential

When Jodi was diagnosed with mesothelioma, Minnesota congressman Bruce Vento was also battling the disease. She said that having mesothelioma was a little easier to deal with knowing there was someone else with the disease, a sentiment that is easy to relate to. Unfortunately, Vento passed away shortly after Jodi completed her radiation treatments, and it was hard on her.

“He was the only person I knew who had the cancer,” she remembers. “He was in the news. I was like, Okay, I’m doing the same thing that he’s doing. And when I heard the news, I was like, Okay, I’m going to die too. He was my one lifeline. When he passed, I felt isolated and alone. I didn’t know if I was going to make it.”

Jodi’s family, however, helped ease her emotions. The reason support groups are so successful is because they help assuage the kinds of feelings Jodi experienced when Vento passed, those feelings of isolation that is felt by many patients with rare diseases.

Yet, Jodi explains her family was essential to her keeping things under control. For example, when she heard the news of Congressman Vento, she had her father to fall back on. She explains:

“My dad said, ‘Jodi, you’re not him. You don’t know what’s going to happen.’ My dad helped me get through it, he was really supportive.”

She also remembers her aunt and siblings were also there for her when she needed them. Jodi’s aunt flew in from Utah to take care of her when her father fell ill, and her sister also took time to visit and inspire Jodi to change her diet.

Keeping Your Chin Up

If there is one thing Jodi teaches us from her life, it is that no matter what faces us, we have to keep pushing forward. She has become an example not just for mesothelioma patients, but for anyone coping with a cancer diagnosis.

JPageJodi was brave enough to share her battles with depression and anxiety, which had the unintended consequence of reframing her life to appreciate the little things.

“I’ve had my ups and downs,” she said. “I’ve had my good moments and my bad moments since then, but I’m still alive. I’m able to get up and get out and do things and enjoy life to the best of my ability.”

One of the fundamental aspects of surviving mesothelioma that resonate with each story is the importance of attitude. Every survivor’s story is different, but having a positive mindset is a seemingly unalterable constant. Jodi is no different, and for her, celebrating every achievement she makes, no matter how minor, makes all the difference.

Jodi has come a long way since her diagnosis. She has had courageous and inspiring celebrations like sky-diving on her 30th birthday a few short years after her diagnosis. Jodi has also celebrated the recovery process from her EPP allowing her to stand in the shower again. Small things like that can be extremely gratifying.

“It’s good if you celebrate the milestones,” said Jodi.

“Something little that gives you a sense of accomplishment. Riding the bike around the block, celebrate that. Getting through your chemo, radiation, being alive a year after it, celebrate that.”