Olga and Joseph Brendel, June 15, 2006
Joseph Brendel has lived the American Dream. He is an 83-year-old retired
nuclear engineer who originally came from a 100-acre farm in St. Mary's,
Pennsylvania. After attending Duquesne University for one semester on
a football scholarship, Joe joined the Navy and was stationed in the South
Pacific during the mid 1940s. When he returned home, he finished school
while playing semi-professional football for the McKeesport Ironman team.
In college he met the love of his life, Olga, who also served in the U.S.
Marine Corps. They have been married for over 50 years and enjoy a full
life with their four grown children and seven grandchildren.
Joe's retirement days were busily spent crafting furniture, helping
his eldest son restore antique autos, and putting new additions onto his
house. Joe also enjoyed visiting his extensive family and working around
the house. In early May 2006, he began to notice some chest pain and experienced
trouble breathing. He went to the Allegheny General Hospital in Pittsburgh,
Pennsylvania where doctors took several chest films. Initially, they thought
Joe had a heart problem, but later discovered he had a large right pleural
effusion in addition to having a collapsed lung in the middle and lower
On May 18, 2006, doctors at Allegheny General Hospital performed a thoracentesis
to drain the fluid from Joe's chest cavity, discovering a bloody effusion.
A few days later, he underwent a right thoracoscopy where doctors used
a thin, tube-shaped instrument with a light and a lens to examine his
chest. He also had a second thoracentesis and a pleural biopsy. To help
drain any fluid accumulation, doctors inserted a tube in his side. The
tumor encapsulated both the visceral and parietal pleura and the entire
right lobe. There was suspicion that that the cancer had extended into
the diaphragm. On May 23, Joe underwent a bronchoscopy.
The results of this battery of tests showed that Joe was suffering from
pleural malignant mesothelioma. The cell type was identified as sarcomatous,
which is a rare form of mesothelioma.
MAPPING OUT A GAME PLAN
On May 31, 2006 Joe met with oncologist Dr. Dulabh Monga. Dr. Monga believed
that, due in part to his age, Joe was not a candidate for surgical intervention.
Even though Dr. Monga thought the relative area of the chest cavity was
too large for radiation therapy, she offered to set up an appointment
with a radiation oncologist if the Brendels wanted to explore radiation
Joe's drain tube. June 15, 2006
When Joe expressed he was not interested in the possibility of radiation
therapy, Dr. Monga suggested a chemotherapy combination of Alimta and
Carboplatin. After discussing the issue, Joe elected to have chemotherapy.
His first treatment was administered on June 7, 2006 at the Allegheny
Hospital Cancer Center. Joe was scheduled for six treatments given approximately
21 days apart.
After his chemotherapy began, Joe lost his appetite and consequently some
weight (about six pounds). He also began to feel weak and could not walk
around his house for more than a limited amount of time. He had to remember
to stand up slowly so that he wouldn't get dizzy, either.
Since the tube in his side was inserted in May, a nurse visits Joe at home
to drain any fluid accumulation three to four times a week. The Brendels
feel blessed by this service as the nurse also picks up medication for
him and is an excellent caregiver. She is gentle, and Joe has no pain
in his side from the tube.
With the help of his son, Neal, and Roger G. Worthington, Joe consulted
with Dr. Robert Cameron on July 23, 2006. Dr. Cameron is the chief of
thoracic surgery at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA in Los
Angeles, California. He is one of a handful of doctors who has significant
experience treating mesothelioma patients, including those with sarcomatoid
Dr. Cameron advised Joe on a different route of chemotherapy treatment.
Instead of administering Alimta and Carboplatin, Dr. Cameron suggested
high dose Ifosfamide and Adriamycin if Joe was not having a response to
the Alimta after two cycles. Dr. Cameron advised that not all oncologists
make such a distinction between epitheliod and sarcomatoid mesothelioma
patients, but Dr. Cameron has had some great success stories for sarcoma
patients whose tumors have almost completely disappeared on this regimen.
Some of Joe's excellent woodworking
However, Joe stayed on Dr. Monga's treatment plan and completed his
chemotherapy treatment by early August. Films from a PET and CT scan look
virtually the same as those taken on May 18, meaning that the chemotherapy
had successfully "stabilized" the cancer. Additionally, certain
lymph nodes in the hilum have increased in size. Dr. Monga plans to give
Joe a break from his chemotherapy treatment for about one or two months
before administering additional chemotherapy.
Both Dr. Monga and Dr. Cameron have been monitoring Joe's progress,
and some of Dr. Cameron's suggestions are likely to be incorporated
into the next round of treatment. Dr. Monga has also watched over the
amount of fluid accumulation in Joe's chest while he is not taking
chemotherapy. Joe's nurse continues to drain his fluid three times
a week, but the accumulation does not appear to be problematic at the moment.
In mid-October, Joe returned to Dr. Monga's office where a PET scan
revealed that he is "holding his own." His mesothelioma continues
to be maintained and has not progressed. Joe will return to Dr. Monga's
office in December 2006 to discuss further treatment but at the moment
is not undergoing any chemotherapy.
Even with good reports from his doctors, Joe still tires easily and is
fatigued. Olga remarks, "It is a day to day thing," and seems
to remind herself "to count her blessings."
For Labor Day, Joe's family visited and enjoyed a wonderful afternoon
together, even though Joe moved slowly and tired easily. As a former professional
athlete, he loves to watch his grandchildren's sporting events at
The Brendel Family
Over the past months, Olga has provided for Joe as best she can. She is
grateful the mesothelioma is "static" for now, and recognizes
how fortunate they have been over the past 58 years together. She said
you "do the best you can under the circumstances." The family
feels similarly, each of their children visits as often as possible. Two
of their sons continue to actively research medical options and to correspond
with Joe's doctors regularly to ensure he is receiving the best treatment possible.
This fall, Joe will miss "Grandparents' Day" at his grandsons'
school for the first time. He is upset by this, but he doesn't have
enough energy to go. Olga will go by herself. The grandchildren had hoped
they would both be able to make it. Yet, they do plan to keep their Thanksgiving
tradition. Thanksgiving is a favorite holiday for the Brendels and Joe
has specifically requested dinner be served at their house. He looks forward
to having his children and grandchildren under one roof for a time of thanks.
Olga gives thanks every day. She continues to arm herself with knowledge,
actively seeking out what research is being done. With the help of her
daughter, Olga navigates the internet looking for the latest information.
She is glad that research is being done although she acknowledges that
it doesn't seem to be enough. She is also grateful for the help she
has gotten at every turn, from the home care nurse who takes away much
of the unnecessary worry of medical appointments and treatment to Roger
G. Worthington, P.C. who has provided them with the "best attorneys."
Olga is such a positive person and always focuses on the good that others
are doing, that's why it has been so difficult for her to understand
why something like this could happen to the love of her life.
*** POSTED NOVEMBER 2, 2006 ***
Mr. Joseph Brendel passed away on November 25, 2006