Dolores and Kurt Luebke August 5, 2008
Dolores Luebke is a 58 year-old mother and recent grandmother living in
the idyllic seaside village of San Clemente, California with her husband
Kurt, to whom she has been married to for 32 years. She was celebrating
the arrival of her first grandchild in April 2008 before questions about
her own health arose.
Elation cut short
Dolores has always led a very active and healthy lifestyle. In August 2007,
she and Kurt took their entire family on a vacation to Costa Rica. It
was the first time they had all been on vacation together since her children
moved away from home. The family did not spend their precious time lounging
by the pool. Instead, they went on nature hikes, went surfing and even
had a family outing on a 300 yard, ten story high zip line. Kurt says
that when he presented the idea of going on the zip line, he gave Dolores
the option of sitting out. She wouldn’t hear of it. According to
Kurt, “she screamed the loudest when she jumped off the platform,
but had the biggest smile when it was over.”
The thrill and satisfaction Dolores experienced on the zip line was far
surpassed by another family moment which occurred on April 18, 2008 when
her first granddaughter, Lucia, was born. Dolores was at the hospital
for the birth and then spent two weeks at her daughter Melissa’s
home helping out with Lucia as Melissa recovered from the delivery. She
was only able to enjoy the elation of being a grandmother for a short
time before she began noticing shortness of breath and mild pain in her
A decision between two leading surgical options
Upon the onset of her symptoms, Dolores had a chest x-ray taken followed
by a CT scan. Results demonstrated a significant pleural-based mass in
the left hemothorax. Her doctor suspected mesothelioma and had her undergo
a CT-guided core biopsy which was performed on June 3, 2008. Pathology
analysis of the tissues came back with a diagnosis of malignant pleural
mesothelioma, epithelial cell type.
Dolores zipping throught the trees in Costa Rica
At her doctor’s direction, Dolores completed two rounds of Alimta/Cisplatin
chemotherapy before considering surgical options instead. During the summer
of 2008, Dolores consulted with California’s two leading thoracic
surgeons, Dr. David Jablons at the University of California at San Francisco
Medical Center and Dr. Robert Cameron at the University of California
at Los Angeles Medical Center. After weighing both surgical options carefully,
Dolores ultimately chose to undergo the pleurectomy/decortication surgery
with Dr. Cameron at UCLA. Even though the tumor was wrapped tightly around
her lung, “Dr. Cameron seemed positive that he could get it done,”
according to Dolores. “He was very positive and took his time with
me.” Dolores’s surgery was on September 11, 2008. After 13
hours of surgery and two weeks of hospitalization, she was finally released
to go home and recover.
Post-surgical treatment and out-of-pocket care
After Dolores recovered from surgery, she completed 25 rounds of radiation
therapy in December 2008 with radiation oncologist Dr. Michael Selch at
UCLA. She also recently completed four rounds of Alimta / Cisplatin /
Avastin chemotherapy in May 2009. Luckily she was able to tolerate this
chemo cocktail much better and had fewer side-effects.
Dolores is currently undergoing cryoablation with Dr. Fereidoun Abtin of
UCLA for her mesothelioma. Cryoablation uses a freezing technique to remove
tissue from tumors. According to her doctors, it can be more effective
at removing the pesky tumors that the chemo was unable to fight off. It’s
a very time and detail intensive procedure. Dolores recently had one tumor
treated and it took three hours. During her last treatment she received
wonderful news that three of her tumors had since shrunk so she only had
one tumor left to be treated! She will continue to be monitored on a monthly
basis before her next treatement is decided upon.
Dolores and her family are paying out-of-pocket for cryoablation treatement.
She and Dr. Abtin have tried appealing her health insurance company’s
decision to not cover treatment four times already but they have not budged.
She is very grateful to be able to pay for the latest treatment options
through her settlements but definitely thinks insurance companies should
not deny new, live-saving treatments especially for those who aren’t
as fortunate as she. She is anxious for more studies being done in order
to fast-track the latest treatments for insurance approval.
Luebke Family - August 2007
Staying active—mind and body
Before her diagnosis, Dolores took full advantage of their proximity to
the beach and loved going for daily walks. A native Californian, it wasn’t
long until she turned Kurt, a born and bred Wisconsinite, into a self-professed
“beach rat.” They met in 1975 and were married in 1977 in
Big Sur. Dolores and Kurt have two children. Their daughter Melissa is
28 years old, married, and lives in nearby Yorba Linda, California with
her husband and baby. Their son Eric is 26 years old, engaged, and lives
up the beach from them in Huntington Beach, California.
Dolores and Kurt spend a lot of time with their children, but they have
also been enjoying their “empty nest” status in recent years.
Big Sur, located south of Carmel, has always been a special place for
Dolores and Kurt. They fell in love there and were married there less
than two years later. In recent years, they have traveled to Big Sur at
least once a year. They love staying in an old turn of the century inn
nestled in the hillside overlooking the ocean. They also enjoy going for
hikes and driving up and down Pacific Coast Highway taking in the breathtaking
scenery. Other frequent “get-away” destinations for Dolores
and Kurt include San Diego and Palm Springs.
Although Dolores isn’t able to go out for her walks like she used
to, she enjoys working part-time at the Vice-Principal’s office
at the local high school. She loves the people she works with and it’s
a great opportunity to just get out of the house and keep her mind busy.
She can’t wait to begin again in the fall.
Kurt and daughter Melissa will be attending MARF’S International
Symposium in late June. Kurt has been going around the neighborhood getting
signatures and garnering support for the various causes benefiting mesothelioma
research, including health insurance approval of new treatments and ban
asbestos legislation. Dolores is so proud her family is attending the
symposium in her honor. She will be sitting this one out, resting up and
restoring her energy for her Eric’s wedding in July.
Since being diagnosed with mesothelioma and learning of the bleak survival
statistics, Dolores is admittedly scared, but is determined to do everything
in her power to see Lucia reach her developmental milestones. She believes
in the power of hope for the future, but knows the importance of appreciating
*** POSTED JULY 6, 2009 ***
An Update from Melissa – August 22, 2009
My mom had a laser bronchoscopy surgery Tuesday, August 18th in the evening
where they resected the tumor that was blocking her airway. She has the
ability to use her left upper lobe of her lung. He told us that the lobe
had been filled with mucous with pneumonia-like symptoms. Dr. Cameron
will also be putting in a bronchial stent within two weeks to prevent
any future closure of her air passageway. While in the operating room,
they also put in an esophageal stent and dilated the area by the food
pipe so that she will be able to swallow and eat again.
Dr. Cameron informed us that the tumor that was blocking her airway is
progressive and will be hard to control due to its proximity to her aorta.
He said it is acting differently than the majority of "meso tumors"
in that it is really trying to get into other areas. He thought the area
by the esophagus could have damage from radiation and that it didn't
appear as though the tumor by the aorta was "in communication"
with the esophagus area.
She is still on a ventilator as they are checking her diaphragm with some
tests to make sure it is working well. Today they tried to have her breathe
on her own by shutting it off and just having her be on a T-piece, P2,
but her blood pressure and CO2 levels went up, so the surgical team decided
to wait until tomorrow to try again.
We are still awaiting the results from the sonogram for the diaphragm check.
One of the surgeons on the team said Dr. Cameron was concerned about the
progression of the disease in that area because it had appeared in previous
ultrasounds that her right side of the diaphragm wasn't showing much
movement. Her left side is already "paralyzed" from the previous
trauma from the pleurect/decort a year ago.
An Update from Melissa – August 29, 2009
Yesterday was a very tough day for my mom. Beginning Thursday night, her
stomach had swollen up which they thought was just gas from the food she
was receiving via GI tube. After a full night/early morning of tests,
they discovered Friday morning that she had a trach/esophageal fistula
which is a hole in between the two tubes. The hole led to complications,
mainly because stomach substances were moving into the lungs and air ventilation
was going into the stomach.
Dr. Cameron, was able to clear out the lungs and see the problem during
a bronchoscopy exam. He informed us that there was a possibility of putting
in another esophageal stent directly next to the first esoph. stent to
cover up the hole. Fortunately, a GI surgeon was successful in the procedure
and was able to put in the stent. She was on full ventilator support and
sedated for most of the day. Since then, they have begun antibiotics to
check for infection and have been slowly weaning her off full ventilator
support. Her numbers are all great with no infection and she is feeling
so much better today!
They have put a tube down her nose that will go to her intestine so that
they can feed her with that way to take no chance that the food will go
from her stomach into her lungs as they monitor the fistula. They can
eventually take that tube out.
We are praying for her to be able to wean off the main ventilator and get
stable and strong enough to feel comfortable to go home.
*** Dolores Luebke passed away on September 1, 2009 ***