Don McShane, April 29, 2004
Don and Peggy McShane were living the good life.
After a long and successful career building houses in Southern California,
Don had begun to enjoy the fruits of his labors. They played golf. They
visited their cabin on the Arizona border near Lake Havasu. Don loved
flying his Bonanza to various towns through California and lunch with
his pilot friends.
And there were the grandchildren 15 of them, all young and eager to play
and explore. Don and Peggy logged many an hour in the bleachers at baseball
and basketball games cheering on their little heroes. Sports had always
played a big part in the McShane family. Don did not smoke, ate his fruits
and vegetables, and got plenty of exercise.
In late Spring of 2003 Don noticed that he was having trouble keeping up
with Peggy on their two and a half mile walk along the foothills of the
Angeles National Forest. He felt like he was gasping for air and in constant
need of a breather. In June, his shortness of breath concerned him enough
to go see his cardiologist for a work-up and stress test, which resulted
in hospitalization. Unfortunately, this was the harbinger of many trips
to the hospital to come.
Gradually, Don began feeling better and his exercise level improved. However,
in August his shortness of breath came back, even worse than before. He
returned to his cardiologist, who took a chest film. The chest film revealed
a large left pleural effusion. He was admitted to Glendale Memorial Hospital
for further workup, including a CT-scan of the chest and left chest thoracentesis
on August 26, 2003. Approximately 1300 cc of red-yellow pleural fluid
were removed during the procedure. Immunohistochemical stains performed
upon tissue found within the fluid were strongly compatible with malignant
Mesothelioma? Don and Peggy had never heard of it, although they knew that
Don had worked with and around asbestos products for many years as a carpenter
Although Don obtained some relief after doctors drained fluid from the
linings of his lungs, he continued to wheeze, gasp for air during exercise
and cough up phlegm. Normally robust with a hearty appetite, Don began
to lose weight dramatically. All Don's activities came to an end.
Don's daughter, familiar with the medical community in Los Angeles,
arranged through Don's oncologist, Dr. Figlin, for Don to consult
with Dr. Robert Cameron at the UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles, California.
Dr. Cameron felt Don was a suitable candidate for pleurectomy and decortication.
On September 25, 2003, Dr. Cameron performed a bronchoscopy, partial pleurectomy
and pulmonary decortication, reconstruction of the diaphragm and radical
mediastinal lymph node dissection. The surgical notes, summarized here,
tell the tale of a bulky asbestos tumor that was on the move. The tumor
had surrounded the lung and obliterated the parietal and visceral pleurae.
Dr. Cameron surgically removed as much bulky tumor as reasonably possible,
careful not to puncture the diaphragm, lung and pericardium. The tedious
surgery required Don to be under anesthesia for nine hours. Dr. Cameron
diligently removed every speck of the tumor he could see. The immunohistochemical
analysis of the pleural mass taken from the partial pleurectomy confirmed
the diagnosis of malignant mesothelioma, epithelioid type. Fortunately,
his lymph nodes were clean finally, a good break. Don was left with a
ten-inch scar running from the top of his left shoulder blade around his
At Don's October 17, 2003 followup visit with Dr. Cameron, he appeared
to be recovering from his surgery. He complained of some shortness of
breath upon exertion such as walking two or three blocks, as well as pain.
He also told Dr. Cameron that he had a constant weakness. Dr. Cameron
scheduled postoperative radiation to start in midNovember. Dr. Cameron
also requested that a CT scan be done prior to his return visit which
was scheduled for late January.
Don began a series of 4500 cGY of postoperative standard single daily fraction
external beam radiation sessions on November 12, 2003. He suffered from
seconddegree burns on his back and chest. Still, he weathered through
the therapy, completing all 25 treatments, the last on December 18, 2003.
Don was determined to use every medical tool available to zap every malignant
mesothelioma cell swirling in his chest cavity.
Over the next several weeks, Don tried to regain his strength as he readied
himself for his next visit with Dr. Cameron. Don met with Dr. Cameron
on January 26, 2004, to monitor his progress and assess his suitability
for the next step in his treatment plan, chemotherapy. Fortunately, his
post surgery CT-scan did not show that the tumor had recurred a very frightening
but realistic concern for all post surgical mesothelioma patients. As
a routine, Dr. Cameron recommends chemotherapy (Alimta/Cisplatin) treatments
to either delay recurrence or stabilize tumors that have recurred. Because
of Don's severe weakness, pain and continued weight loss, Dr. Cameron
was unable to recommend chemotherapy at that time. In addition to weakness
and weight loss, Don complained of increasing shortness of breath, which
he had experienced upon exertion, moderate anorexia, fevers, and increased
night sweats. Don was having trouble sitting still. He felt a constant
need to get up and move as the pain began to set in. Dr. Cameron requested
another CT/PET scan be done prior to his third follow-up visit.
Concerned that he was not taking all the steps necessary to combat the
return of the tumor, Don turned to another oncologist for advice. The
oncologist agreed that if Dr. Cameron saw no evidence of the disease in
the January CT scan, then he should consider holding off on pursuing chemotherapy.
The oncologist told Don that since he had started the radiation therapy
so soon after the surgery, his body didn't really have time to heal
and was vulnerable to infections and worse.
Don's motor doesn't do well on "idle." He likes to stay
active. Unfortunately, the tumor and the treatments have taken their toll
on Don's physical strength. He frets about his inability to twist
the cap off a water bottle. He has no appetite and states, "If Peggy
didn't make me eat, I probably wouldn't." However, as a diabetic
he forces himself to eat. He complains of potshots of pain which force
him to move constantly.
Although weakened by mesothelioma, Don's drive is strong tough as a
combat boot, so the saying goes. He does not like to complain. He does
not want pity. He wants to get well, and he wants the companies responsible
for stealing his golden years to be held accountable.
"Let me tell you, when I was running my projects I worked right alongside
my crew most times. I had no idea the asbestos dust swirling around would
later come back to haunt me, and Peggy."
During a recent deposition, Don, a former vice president of national construction
for a large storage company, talked about his managerial responsibilities.
At each job site, whether it was an excavation of a condemned building
or construction of a new facility, it was his duty and obligation to make
the safety of his workers his first priority. Don's opinion was that
if a company executive knew about, or should have known about, a dangerous
condition that could harm workers and bystanders on the job, he should
be held accountable for such injuries. Don spoke directly to every chief
executive officer of every manufacturer of asbestos-containing products
when he testified, "You are responsible for my wife, my family, the
retirement years that I'm not going to have. Therefore, I don't
think you did a very good job of supervising your products."
After testifying for a day, Don felt drained. That night Peggy rushed him
to the ER again because of weakness and shortness of breath. He met the
same doctor who originally diagnosed him with mesothelioma. Don was diagnosed
with pneumonia a potentially fatal lung disease for a man with mesothelioma.
For the next three days, Don remained hospitalized. Throughout his stay,
his wife at his side. Don spoke to his doctors about his determination
to get released on Sunday so he could continue his deposition Monday.
A proud, self-reliant 76-year-old loving husband, stricken with asbestos-caused
mesothelioma in his prime, with post surgical pain and radiation therapy
related weakness, dreading tedious cross-examination from robotic asbestos
company defense lawyers, in the hospital with serious pneumonia, but wanting
out so he could finish what he started. The deposition was not at all
enjoyable. In fact it was stressful beyond words. But for a man of principle,
a man who was taught to finish what he started, whose love of life is
exceeded only by his love of family and faith, it was a duty he was determined
to see through.
After completing the deposition, Don again wound up in the hospital with
pneumonia in both lungs. He was in the hospital another ten days. He is
now at home trying to gain some strength and on oxygen continually.
We wish the best for this wonderful couple, Don and Peggy. It's a testament
to his strength of courage that Don is working hard to get back into good
enough shape where he can withstand the full-body assault of aggressive
*** POSTED JUNE 29, 2004 ***
Mr. Don McShane passed away on September 18, 2004