Thursday, May 11, 2017

An Amazing Personal Story of Mesothelioma Survival

Being diagnosed with mesothelioma is a terrible blow. This aggressive type of cancer is nearly always incurable. It is difficult to treat, the prognosis is rarely positive, and it causes uncomfortable symptoms that cause quality of life to deteriorate quickly. And yet, some people do fight back and survive this awful cancer. Katherine Keys is one of those survivors and her story is one she loves to share, to give hope and provide inspiration to others.
When Katherine first noticed the symptoms that she now knows were caused by mesothelioma, she assumed she had a bad case of the flu or another respiratory infection. She was struggling to breathe, she had a cough, and she just didn’t feel well. There are several types of mesothelioma but the most common type affects the tissue, called the pleura, that lines the lungs and interior of the chest cavity. Because of its location in the body, pleural mesothelioma causes symptoms that mimic infections like the flu or pneumonia. This, combined with how relatively rare it is, makes mesothelioma difficult to diagnose.
Katherine got sick and when what she assumed was an infection failed to get better, and in fact only got worse, she ended up in the emergency room. Eventually she received the terrible diagnosis of pleural mesothelioma, and the prognosis wasn’t good. She had something on her side, though. She was diagnosed with stage I mesothelioma.
A stage I diagnosis, the earliest stage of cancer in which it has not yet spread very far in the body, is not common with mesothelioma. This cancer has a long latency period and is often diagnosed when it is already in stage III or IV. With a rare early diagnosis, Katherine had hope. She was only 49 and she was told by her doctors that she would be lucky to live two years, but Katherine was ready for a fight.

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To give herself the best possible chance of remission and a cure, Katherine chose to go through the most aggressive type of treatment: a surgical procedure called an extrapleural pneumonectomy. This radical surgery is done only by expert surgeons specializing in this kind of treatment. It involves removing an entire lung, most of the pleural tissues, lymph nodes, and part of the diaphragm. Some patients do not survive this surgery, and for those who do there are potential complications and a long recovery period.
Katherine’s surgery was a success. After surgery, she underwent radiation therapy to kill any lingering cancer cells, and months later her check-ups kept coming back clear. She had no recurrence of cancer at a month after surgery, two months later, six months, later, and finally 1 year later. At this point she was declared a survivor. She had beaten one of the toughest types of cancer and was in remission.
Today, nearly 10 years later, Katherine is still cancer-free. Her battle to survive was just the beginning, though, now she lives life with physical limitations because she has only one lung. Katherine isn’t bothered by that, though. She is thrilled to be alive and to still be with her family and friends. She is also thrilled to share her story every chance she gets. To be able to inspire others to fight back against cancer, even when the odds are not good, is something that Katherine treasures. She hopes that her story will give others hope when everything seems hopeless, and that her survival will encourage other patients to take a chance with the risky surgery to have a better chance of being survivors too.

Editor's note: All information and the photo in this post were contributed. Click one of the buttons below to share it.

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