At his pre-retirement company physical in late July, the attending physician
told John Haley, "If I sold life insurance, I'd want to sell
you a policy." Two months later, on October 1, John Haley was diagnosed
with malignant pleural mesothelioma.
Doctors had x-rayed John's chest as a routine part of his physical
in late July. At that point, John was feeling the healthiest he had ever
felt, having shed 25 pounds off his frame to a weight of 225 pounds. He
was still playing softball in the Golden Age League, playing golf with
his wife and fishing on Potholes Reservoir near his home in East Wenatchee,
Washington. John worked as a laborer, welder and pot repairman at the
ALCOA aluminum Plant in Wenatchee, Washington from 1963 to 2001.
His chest films came back, and at his doctors' request, John consented
to more films over Labor Day weekend. Results from the follow up films
showed abnormalities that were "consistent" with a possible
"neoplasm" or cancer. John's doctor ordered pulmonary function
tests to determine the extent to which, if any, the mass pushing against
his lung was restricting his lung function. Those results confirmed the
presence of a worrisome defect. His doctor scheduled John for a CT scan.
The scan showed what his doctor suspected: there was no clearance between
John's right lung and his rib cage.
On October 1, Dr. Stephen Knox of the Wenatchee Valley Clinic performed
a biopsy, and the pathological report returned positive for malignant
John was immediately referred to Dr. Eric Vallieres of the University of
Washington Medical Center in Seattle. A member of the Science Advisory
Board of the Mesothelioma Applied Research Foundation (MARF), a 501(c)(3)
non-profit charity whose mission is to eradicate mesothelioma as a life-ending
disease, Dr. Vallieres is one of the foremost treaters of mesothelioma
in the nation.
Dr. Vallieres met with John on October 17. John underwent a PET scan, which
showed that the tumor had spread to John's lymph nodes. Although this
finding put John into a advanced stage of tumor progression, Dr. Vallieres
concluded that in view of his overall health John was a candidate for
the rigorous multi-modality therapy that he offered at the University
of Washington. Dr. Vallieres' protocol consists of pre-surgical induction
chemotherapy, and, if the tumor shows response to chemotherapy as evidenced
by CT scan, extra-pleural pneumonectomy, follwed by radiation.
An extra-pleural pneumonectomy is considered to be a radical surgery with
a significant patient mortality, depending on where the patient undergoes
the procedure. It is controversial, as certain doctors would instead recommend
a pleurectomy / decortication, which calls for sparing the lung and removing
the visible tumor only. See Klaus Brauch. When performing the EPP, Dr.
Vallieres removes the patient's affected lung and the pericardial
sac (along with the diaphragm) and replaces the same with a new lining
made of Kevlar®. Several weeks after surgery, after the patient has
partially healed, radiation therapy is applied to the affected area in
an effort to eliminate all traces of the tumor. Eligibility for surgery,
however, relies entirely on the patient's response to chemotherapy.
If, after two rounds of chemotherapy, the tumor has not shrunk, the patient
may not continue with the treatment protocol and surgery.
For his two rounds of chemotherapy, Dr. Vallieres referred John to Dr.
Kyran Bulger, also of the Wenatchee Valley Clinic. John began his chemotherapy
on October 29 with a twenty-four hour stay for a blast of Cisplatin that
knocked him over. Each of his next three treatments to complete his first
round of chemotherapy were with a less powerful drug in accordance with
the prescribed regimen. Today, he began his second round of treatment,
again with Cisplatin, but this time he will remain in the hospital for
48 hours, to allow his body more time to adjust and recuperate.
John's entire family has rallied around him at this time. At the time
of his initial diagnosis, his wife, Nikki, was devastated. Over the next
several weeks, Niki did her best to channel all of her stress and anxiety
into making her husband comfortable, strong and hopeful. John's youngest
daughter, Jessica Nicole, and his son, Newton Baxter, have also tried
their best to render aid and comfort, and his eldest daughter, Melody,
visits every night, sometimes bringing over her two sons to see their
John is facing a big adjustment. He formally retired from ALCOA on November
1, after 38 ½ years of service first as a laborer, and after 1978,
as a welder and pot repairman. As a welder and repairman, he was responsible
for maintaining the pots, the enormous asbestos refractory-lined furnaces
in which aluminum oxide undergoes smelting through electrolytic reduction
to become aluminum. The work was difficult, dirty and tough. He was looking
forward after years of work near the smelting pots and other high temperature
equipment to a long and enjoyable retirement.
Now, instead of cruising along in his retirement years at his own pace,
it seems that everyone is taking care of John -- which he appreciates,
but this wasn't the picture he envisioned all those years while on
the job. He wanted self-reliance. He wanted to be the one helping others.
The chemotherapy has been rough. He has had nausea which lowers his appetite.
John will be undergoing a second round of chemotherapy after which he
will have another PET scan and biopsy to determine if he is eligible for
the EPP and a chance at living longer. The reality of his predicament
has set in -- he's a cancer patient, and no amount of wishful thinking
or even anger will retard the steady march of the tumor inside him. John
knows that it's unfair, but knowledge like this is of little immediate
help. Yes, he wants to go bass and perch fishing (he's been saving
up all these years to spend a good deal amount of his retirement at a
special little spot the whereabouts even now he cannot divulge). Yes,
he wants to spend his afternoons on the golf course playing the game he
loves with the wife he loves. Yes, he'd like to get back out on the
softball fields, under the lights, anticipating his next at bat where
he can hit that homer in the bottom of the ninth he's always dreamed about.
But for now, these dreams are on hold. A new year is just around the corner,
and John and Nikki hope that it ushers in some good news, and his share
of good luck.
*** POSTED DECEMBER 5, 2001 ***
Mr. Haley passed away on April 16, 2002