Dennis Harline and Family, 2001
Dennis Harline, 56-year-old forensic scientist, husband and father of three,
began a journey early this year in search of a cure for his mesothelioma.
He has encountered many roadblocks along the way. The medical community
has yet to offer a reasonable plan, but Dennis has not been deterred.
He continues to search for a cure, and along the way, he has devised his
own treatment plan.
We offer his story as a roadmap to those who've been told by their
doctors that there is no hope.
The Road From Onset To Diagnosis
Every day in an effort to stay fit, Dennis trotted up the two (2) flights
of stairs to his office. In January of 1999, he no longer ran but walked
the stairs. By the end of February, he was taking the elevator. He could
not finish a sentence or carry on a conversation without gasping for air.
On February 26, 1999, Dennis sought medical attention for his breathing
problem and a dry cough. The doctor ordered a chest film, blood tests
and an EKG. The chest film revealed a large right pleural effusion. His
physician scheduled an appointment with a pulmonary specialist. During
the March 2, 1999 examination, the specialist noted a dull percussion
in the base of the right lung and no breath sounds. His pulmonologist
decided to perform a thoracentesis immediately in an effort help Dennis
breathe, and also to make a diagnosis.
The doctors removed approximately two (2) liters of serous fluid. They
sent the fluid samples to the pathology lab for testing. A follow-up visit
was scheduled for March 8, 1999. At that visit Dennis said that he was
feeling pretty good, all things considered. The cytology report had come
back negative for any malignancy. As a precautionary measure, his doctors
wisely scheduled another follow up chest film.
The March 24, 1999 examination was not good. Dennis again felt a "fullness"
in his chest. He labored to breathe. A CT scan revealed a large right
pleural effusion and collapse of the lower right lobe of the lung. The
pulmonologist recommended an immediate consult with a thoracic surgeon
and possible surgery. Dennis was hospitalized that same day. During surgery
the next day, the thoracic surgeon took biopsies and drained three (3)
liters of fluid from the right chest cavity through a chest tube.
The biopsy specimens were sent to Dr. Thomas Colby at the Mayo Clinic in
Scottsdale, Arizona. Dr. Colby is a member of the elite U.S.-Canadian
Mesothelioma Panel. Dr. Colby confirmed the diagnosis of mesothelioma.
Search For A Cure Leads To Dr. Robert Cameron
Dennis remained hospitalized for several days following the surgery. He
underwent additional tests, chest films, CT scans and a MRI. An April
2, 1999, CT scan of his abdominal and pelvic regions revealed the presence
of peritoneal fluid. Dennis' doctors could not explain the fluid.
They finally removed the chest tube and discharged Dennis shortly thereafter
with a referral to a local oncologist.
With his oncologist's help, Dennis explored his treatment options.
The local oncologist suggested a protocol consisting of chemotherapy (taxol)
and carboplatin, followed by radiation therapy. Fortunately, his doctor
encouraged Dennis to research all of his options. Dennis did exactly that.
First, he considered going to the University of Pennsylvania for gene therapy.
Unfortunately, he was advised that there was a three month waiting list.
He could not wait three months.
Next, he heard from another mesothelioma patient about Dr. Robert Cameron
at UCLA Medical School, who has expertise in the tri-modal therapy for
mesothelioma patients. Dennis met with Dr. Cameron at UCLA on April 13,
1999 for a consultation. Dr. Cameron reviewed his tests and tentatively
scheduled him for a pleurectomy on April 29, 1999 (two days before his
56th birthday). Dr. Cameron was concerned about the presence of abdominal
fluid from the CT scan and scheduled Dennis for a laparoscopy to determine
the cause and source of the peritoneal abnormality.
Still hopeful and optimistic about his upcoming surgery, Dennis donated
blood on April 15, 1999. He met with the anesthesiologist on the 19th
of April and gave a second unit of blood.
On April 21, 1999, Dennis underwent the laparoscopy at UCLA. The surgeon
made a small incision directly underneath the navel. He inserted the laparoscope
into the abdominal cavity to scour for evidence of disease. He found a
murky, straw-colored serous fluid (known as "ascites") throughout
the peritoneal cavity. He also found gelatinous-looking "studding"
under the right and left diaphragm, and along the pelvis. He collected
fluid specimens and biopsies for review by the pathology lab. At the time
of his release on April 23rd, Dennis did not know the outcome of his latest surgery.
Dennis was all set to return to Los Angeles to undergo the pleurectomy.
On the day he was scheduled to drive out -- on his 56th birthday -- Dr.
Cameron called to deliver the bad news. The pleural mesothelioma had spread
to his abdominal tract. Consequently, Dr. Cameron advised that he was
no longer a candidate for pleurectomy and resection. This devastating
news sent Dennis into a temporary tailspin, but he quickly pulled out
of it and resumed his determined search for a "cure."
Dennis Finds Nutrition Therapy
Dennis first traveled from his home in Mesa, Arizona to Salt Lake City
to see if there were any trials in progress for mesothelioma patients.
There were none. He next met with a biochemist and microbiologist to have
his blood analyzed, which eventually led to a nutritional program with
herbal supplements. Dennis has religiously followed this regimen, spending
hundreds of dollars for these supplements and organic foods.
Dennis' diet now consists of leafy green vegetables, tomatoes, avocados,
cauliflower, broccoli, carrots, artichokes, green beans and peas. All
of his foods are fresh, purchased by Dennis at an organic food store.
None of the foods can be cooked or microwaved. Some can be steamed, but
not above 180 degrees. The theory is that the living enzymes in the fresh
food will rid his body of acid and produce more alkaline. Cooking the
food destroys the "good" enzymes. He does not eat meat, breads
or dairy products. Occasionally he will have fresh water fish such as
salmon or trout, as long as they are baked or grilled.
Dennis concocted a number of recipes to make his new foods more palatable.
His favorite is a "cherry tomato shake". Dennis will freeze
cherry tomatoes and put them in a blender with other herbs to make a frosty
shake. In order to help Dennis "stay with the program", Tina,
his wife, eats the same foods.
He also drinks a nutritional powder mixed with water. Dennis must drink
five (5) quarts a day of the mix, which must be made immediately before
consumption. The goal of this three-step "cleanse, control and construct"
program is to rid the body of all toxins and produce more alkaline in
the cells, because "cancer cannot live in an alkaline cell".
Dennis will return to Utah in late July for a follow-up blood test.
His Journey Continues . . .
Dennis' oncologist has been working very closely with him to pave the
way for other possible treatments. Dennis is scheduled to meet with an
oncologist in New Mexico.
It was clear that if surgery were an option, Dennis needed to locate a
medical center where the doctors could debulk or "cytoreduce"
both the peritoneal and pleural tumors. We alerted Dennis to the breaking
news on a new chemotherapy agent, Platar, which had shown promise in a
phase II clinical trial at the University of Texsa/M.D. Anderson Hospital
in Houston. Dr. Clair Verschraegen, an oncologist (who specialized in
peritoneal mesothelioma), and Dr. Shin, a thoracic surgeon, were both
involved in the study. It seemed like a fit: theoretically, Dennis could
see both doctors at the same hospital to treat all phases of the disease.
The Platar press release looks pretty favorable, but the devil's in
the details. The press release reports that "a pathologic complete
response based on biopsy and cytology was seen in 61% and 73% of the patients,
respectively." However, these specimens were obtained by endoscopy,
which is not the gold standard for making a reliable diagnosis. I asked
Dr. Robert Taub at Columbia Presbyterian in New York City about the feasibility
of Platar for persons with low-volume pleural disease (like Dennis). Dr.
Taub was not impressed with the published results on Platar, but did not
rule out the potential benefits of Platar for low-volume tumor patients
who were otherwise inoperable. In order to increase the tumor toxicity
of the drug -- whether it is Platar or any other -- it is important for
the drug to actually penetrate the tumor. Platar alone, without surgery,
according to Dr. Taub, may not help if the tumor is bulky (solid) or greater
than 1 cm in diameter.
After visiting with his local doctors, the Ph.D. nutritionist and the oncologist
in New Mexico, Dennis plans to visit Dr. Verschraegen and Dr. Dong Shin
at M.D. Anderson.
Dennis Harline has in the past few months faced more adversity than any
man should ever have to face in a lifetime. Nobody should have to go through
what this man is going through. But perhaps we can learn from Dennis.
He has three young children who live at home (ages 17, 19 and 21) and
a young wife. Throughout this ordeal, Dennis has tried to continue his
work with the City of Mesa Police Department -- he has a family to provide
for and his medical insurance is limited. Dennis has his ups and downs,
but the one constant is his love for his family and his love of life.
Dennis does not want to be a hero, he doesn't want any plaques or
accolades, he just wants to live his life on his own terms.
This man was told on his 56th birthday that his disease was inoperable
and incurable. This man refuses to be written off. He keeps searching
and he keeps going. Dennis' creativity and determination, we hope,
will light the way for other mesotheliotics who are blazing their own
path towards a cure.
*** POSTED JUNE 23, 1999 ***
An Update -- 9/26/00
Dennis was unable to qualify for conventional treatments. He is now traveling
to Mexico for alternative treatments. He goes to Mexico every 6 weeks
for a 1 week stay. He is pleased with the treatments and believes that
6 weeks is just about the right time between treatments. His doctor in
Mexico had him try 8 weeks, but that was too difficult for Dennis.
Dennis is still trying to work and receives numerous phone calls from other
patients wanting to know how he is still alive. He has constant pain but
states "you get used to it and ignore it." He has restless nights
and sometimes periods of great pain, pain strong enough to physically
knock him down. As Dennis states, "You get up, grit your teeth and
Dennis Harline, definitely a man of True Grit.
An Update -- 8/21/01
When we last spoke with Dennis Harline, he was surviving mesothelioma through
character, discipline and the support of his family. Not much has changed.
He continues to work full-time, and is proud to report that, currently,
one of his sons is bound for medical school, his daughter is completing
dental hygiene school and his other son is reaching out to the less fortunate
on an extended mission.
He fields phone calls from fellow patients, from new patients, and the
curious. He imparts advice, and he talks about his own journey and his
He continues to adhere to a strict vegetable/alkalide diet, avoiding foods
that would feed his cancer -- proteins, carbohydrates -- anything that
would convert from a sugar to an acid in his body and encourage tumor growth.
In addition, Dennis still visits Tijuana, Mexico, once every two months
for his alternative treatments. While there for a week, he undergoes
chelation to remove impurities from his bloodstream, vitamin injections to supplement
his dietary regimen, and live-cell injections to replace the cells that
his cancer takes from him.
Dennis follows the progress of asbestos legislation in the news and looks
for treatments, and despite his indignance over the injustice inflicted
upon him and countless others by the asbestos-producing corporations,
he continues to do what they did not -- give back to others -- sick and
otherwise -- simply because he can.
An Update -- 11/29/01
Dennis Harline returned to Tijuana, Mexico, for his regular treatments
on November 12 and stayed for five days. He had a CT scan, and the results
showed that the tumor is not growing. While he cannot say that he is necessarily
thrilled about his trips to treat his cancer, he and others with whom
he stays in touch make an effort to schedule their treatments to coincide
and make it a fun, sociable experience. According to his doctors, this,
as well as Dennis' positive attitude overall, are among the most significant
factors contributing to Dennis' survival.
He continues to be proud of his children, enjoys his time in the slow but
quickening pace of the expanding town of Mesa and is looking forward to
the holidays and some travel not too far from home.
An Update -- 5/7/02; Three Years Later!
Dennis Harline recently celebrated three years of surviving mesothelioma.
He doesn't know what the future holds -- who really does -- but he
knows he's enjoying the precious time he's got. He continues to
work, and is thankful that his employer, the Mesa Police Department, has
allowed certain adjustments to compensate for his limitations. He no longer
goes to the scene of a crime; he completes his forensics work at the lab.
He continues to do what he most enjoys about his work: appearing in court
to help the jurors and the Judge understand the evidence that the prosecution
is offering to prove that the accused committed the crime. Dennis jokes
that often, as soon as he appears in court with exhibits under his arm,
the lawyers for the other side sort of slump. They know he means business.
Despite his influence, Dennis remains modest. "I'm just an expert
witness," he states matter-of-factly.
His employer also gives Dennis some freedom to take care of himself and
his family. He recently returned from one of his periodic trips to Mexico
to receive his usual regimen of treatments. Additionally, the Harline
family took a few days and camped out at Sedona in the Red Rocks region
south of the Grand Canyon. According to Dennis, it's beautiful.
Dennis' youngest son is going into the final 13 months of his mission
work in South Texas and is now fluent in Spanish; his daughter is finishing
dental hygienist school; and his eldest son is graduating from college
this year before taking on the infamous MCAT -- the national entrance
exam for medical school. Dennis is optimistic for his son -- "He's
still got straight A's." If he's as smart -- and tenacious--
as his father, he should be fine.
Mr. Harline passed away on May 29, 2004