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Word comes from the doctor. The diagnosis is mesothelioma.
As the initial shock of that news wears off, the patient and his loved ones begin the process of coming to terms with mesothelioma – what it means to have the cancer, what to do about it, how to prepare for the future. However the most important question focuses on mesothelioma life expectancy.
The process differs from one family to the next, but certain things about mesothelioma remain consistent. We see that almost every time a relative calls us to discuss their problems and ask about what lays ahead. The conversation often goes something like this:
“My father was just diagnosed with mesothelioma. We had no idea anything was wrong. Well, not seriously wrong, I mean. He did have a cough that wouldn’t go away. And he seemed to have lost all his get-up-and-go, where before that he’d always been so active.
“But that’s not how we found out he had mesothelioma. He was in the hospital for heart work, to have plaque cleaned out from one of his arteries. The surgery went OK, everything was good, but then while he was in the recovery room they noticed his lung had collapsed and was filling with fluid.
“They drained the fluid, they took x-rays. Then they did more testing and figured out that what caused the fluid to be in his lung was actually mesothelioma.”
If the patient’s wife is sitting in on the call, she’ll usually offer additional details about what the doctors said: “They told us that mesothelioma is a cancer that spreads so fast. They also told us to be prepared to lose our savings and maybe our home if our medical insurance gets used up treating the mesothelioma, which happens.”
We hear the patient’s side of it too. Since he’s usually well into his senior years, he’s not likely to be one who pulls his punches: “I asked the doctor, ‘This mesothelioma, is there a cure for it?’ and he said, no – no, there isn’t. Then he started talking about treatments and therapies and quality of life, but I had to stop him. I said, ‘Cut to the chase, Doc. How long have I got?’ I wanted to know. That was the bottom line for me. Don’t tip-toe around; just give it to me straight. How long do I have?”
The answer to that question is invariably troubling, yet it often contains reasons for optimism: without treatment, mesothelioma wins in a matter of months; with treatment, patients live anywhere from two to five years or longer after diagnosis.
However, as we tell our callers, depends on more than just treatment. Factors affecting mesothelioma life expectancy include:
The type of mesothelioma that a patient has been diagnosed with is a major factor in estimating his/her life expectancy. The mesothelioma types seen most frequently are pleural and peritoneal (the rarer mesothelioma types are pericardial and testicular). Each mesothelioma type is made up of one of three types of cells – and it is cell type that most determines treatability. Epithelioid mesothelioma cells respond best to treatment.
Consequently, patients who have epitheliod mesothelioma have the strongest chance of achieving long survival paired with a good quality of life. Sarcomatoid mesothelioma cells are the least responsive to treatment because they deeply root themselves, which makes cutting them out with surgery a tremendous challenge, and because they are so hardy that chemotherapy barely has any effect on them. Biphasic mesothelioma cells may or may not respond well to treatment. The reason is that they are a combination of the other two cell types – responsive-to-treatment epithelioid and not-so-responsive sarcomatoid.
How old you are plays a role in mesothelioma life expectancy. If you’re over the age of 55, you’re in the time of life when 75 percent of men first see (the average age of mesothelioma patients is 60). The general rule is that, the older you are when mesothelioma strikes, the weaker your immune system will be and the less effective treatment will be (advanced age lessens the body’s natural ability to fight disease; in contrast, a sturdy immune system gives the mesothelioma patient more of a chance to successfully attack the few cancer cells missed by surgery, chemotherapy and/or radiation treatments). Immune system strength is something many mesothelioma doctors try to enhance in their patients before starting treatment.
Mesothelioma’s Latency Period
Part of what makes mesothelioma so terrible is its exceptionally long latency period – 20, 30, 40 or more years. You inhale dust from a product made with asbestos, and then the tiny making up that dust settle in your lungs. The decades pass before the first signs of cancer show up. Meanwhile, the trapped asbestos is the entire time playing havoc with your lungs. The longer the latency period runs, the potentially worse the cancer will be when it finally raises its ugly head, and thus the worse is life expectancy.
Mesothelioma can be worse if you smoked
Tobacco use at any point during your life can contribute to the severity of the mesothelioma you have today. Contained in a single cigarette are more than 4,000 chemicals capable of irritating your lungs and making you more susceptible to respiratory diseases in general.
Calls we take from people who’ve received a mesothelioma diagnosis or whose spouse or parent or friend received one have one other characteristic in common: emotion overload.
This is typical of what we hear: “When my father was formally diagnosed with mesothelioma, I was completely overwhelmed. At first, I felt surprised. Mesothelioma? How could he have gotten mesothelioma if he had never personally handled asbestos? I later found out that you don’t need to handle asbestos to get mesothelioma from asbestos because the asbestos fibers can travel and anybody can inhale them and not know that they have.
“After that, I went into denial. Everyone in the family did. We told ourselves things like, ‘The diagnosis can’t be right. The tests have to be wrong.’ We were grasping for any explanation that would allow us to say, no, Dad doesn’t have mesothelioma.
“Looking back, I’m glad we didn’t stay in denial too long. Because, if we had kept refusing to believe that they’d actually given Dad the right diagnosis, we wouldn’t have done anything to get mesothelioma treatment started for him in time to help.”
That’s a point we ourselves try to make with callers – that waiting to take action is a giant mistake because people with mesothelioma do better when they’re helped as soon as possible after diagnosis.
The help mesothelioma patients need is a combination of medical financial. Medical, for the reasons mentioned above. Financial, for the reasons that mesothelioma treatment can be ruinously expensive as can living with the disease, given the way it debilitates a once-healthy hard worker and deprives him of the ability to engage in gainful employment to continue providing for himself and his loved ones.
A question our callers ask is: “My parents had to empty their entire nest-egg to pay for his mesothelioma treatments, and the bills aren’t showing any signs of stopping – they just keep coming. Is there anything that can be done about this?”
The answer is yes. Mesothelioma victims can receive compensation for the costs of treating the disease, for lost wages and future income, and for other expenses related to continuing care after treatment. The mesothelioma compensation comes from corporations and others legally at fault for putting you into contact with asbestos. It’s money they owe you for all the expense and heartache they’ve put you through.
Whether you’re a mesothelioma patient or a family member, this is money you should receive. Our job is to draw on more than a quarter-century of experience doing this exact thing for other and help you obtain money that should by rights have never left your pocket in the first place.