John Russell was born September 6, 1935, in Chicago. His father worked
as a retail manager for Florsheim Shoes in Chicago, just around the corner
from the Biograph Theater, where bank robber and fugitive John Dillinger
was gunned down by FBI agents in 1934. The family moved to Hermosa Beach in 1938.
John's mother suffered from chronic pneumonia, and died from chronic
heart disease when he was nine. John's family moved to the Valley
before the war in 1942. His father was a manager at the Friedman Shelby
shoe store. He later worked as the West Coast sales rep for L.B. Evans
After his mother's death, John lived in an orphanage until age 16,
when his father re-married. He attended four different high schools, graduating
in 1953 from Burroughs. He attended two semesters at Hollywood High, where
the auditorium's stage curtain was made of asbestos cloth and had
giant lettering that spelled out "Asbestos" on the curtain.
"Do asbestos you can" was the unofficial school motto.
When John worked as a young man delivering automotive parts in Los Angeles,
he had no idea that the brake pads being arced in his company's machine
shop contained lethal asbestos. Daily surrounded by the poisonous dust,
the effects of this early work led to his later development of mesothelioma.
In March, 2007, John developed tightness throughout his chest. An avid
road cyclist who logs about 100 miles per week and who rides regularly
with a local group, John had an EKG, blood test, and x-rays to determine
whether he had a pulled rib muscle. The tests came back negative but he
was treated as if he had a pulled rib.
A few weeks later John pulled a tendon in his foot, which required a cast
that took him out of commission for six weeks. During that time he could
not exercise or ride his bike. After the cast was removed, he began to
recondition due to the extended period of inactivity. He had no problem
riding long distances on flat surfaces, but found that he could no longer
climb on his bike. Shortly thereafter he began experiencing shortness
of breath when walking up stairs. Due to his exceptional physical condition
and his particular cycling forte of being able to climb steep hills, he
On October 2, 2007 John had 1.5 liters of fluid drained from around his
lung, and 2 additional liters the following week. John then underwent
a talc pleurodesis to prevent further fluid accumulation. During this
procedure, the doctors performed a tissue biopsy. The pathology report
confirmed epithelial-type malignant pleural mesothelioma.
John met with an oncologist who gave John a pamphlet from the NCI that
said chemotherapy was the only treatment option, and asserted that neither
surgery nor radiation were possible. The doctor based his opinion on the
approximately twenty mesothelioma cases he has treated, "a few"
of which he categorized as successes. John decided to seek a second opinion.
John and Esther Russell
He and Esther looked into Dr. David Sugarbaker's mesothelioma program
and learned that they would need to travel to Boston in order to get an
answer about his suitability for treatment. Their daughter Cindy began
doing research on the Internet and learned about Dr. Robert Cameron and
the mesothelioma program at UCLA. After reading about Dr. Cameron's
Kermit Kelley, they contacted
PHLBI and asked about consulting with Dr. Cameron.
John, Esther, his daughter Cindy, his son Jeff, and his daughter in-law
met with Dr. Cameron on October 30, and John had
pleurectomy/decortication surgery in late November.
Dr. Cameron completed the pleurectomy/decortication in 6.5 hours, and said
it went as expected. The tumor was wrapped around the aorta but not attached
to it and Dr. Cameron completely removed it. The lung suffered a few small
nicks and the tumor covered half the diaphragm, with Dr. Cameron removing
all gross tumor. John had follow up radiation, also at UCLA, as part of
Dr. Cameron's multimodal therapy.
John had no pain from the cancer or the surgery, but drainage problems
required him to take a lot of painkillers. He has lost 30-35 pounds and
is having difficulty gaining it back, though he's eating about 3,000
kcal per day. Whatever setbacks come his way, John is certain to keep
fighting with the help of his family, doctors, and friends.
*** POSTED OCTOBER 14, 2008 ***
*** Mr. John Russell passed away on November 15, 2008 ***