On The Fast Track For Meso Treatment
Arleen and Wally Nielsen
Walter “Wally” Nielsen and his lovely wife, Arleen, sit surrounded
by comfort and beauty – testaments to their hard work and creativity.
A well-tended garden is a riot of spring color, but the leaden sky and
cool drizzle portend another side of the Nielsens' seemingly idyllic life.
You wouldn’t know it from his easy going manner and natural smile,
but Wally is battling an insidious cancer. This diagnosis of malignant
mesothelioma came as a shock to Wally, a tall, fit, active, 74 year-old
lifetime nonsmoker. A passionate golfer and skier, he thought the stabbing
pain in his back was due to a torn muscle and chest pains from a bout
with pneumonia. A chest X-ray and subsequent CT scan revealed a pleural
effusion, and a PET/CT scan a week later confirmed the presence of something
amiss and nefarious.
“From this point, we were on a “fast track”,” said
Wally. By December of 2010, Wally had a biopsy which confirmed the mesothelioma
diagnosis. He consulted with Dr. L. Stuart Nagasawa, an oncologist, who
suggested that he consult with Dr. Robert Cameron, a surgical oncologist
at UCLA Medical, about the feasibility of lung-sparing surgery.
“Dr. Nagasawa told me that I was very strong, my breathing test was
off the chart, and that although not everyone can be a candidate for this
surgery, he believed I could tolerate it and benefit from it,” Wally
recalled with a sigh of relief.
On January 24, 2011, Dr. Cameron operated on Wally, removing all visible
tumor surrounding the lung. Not surprisingly, Wally agreed to attack his
mesothelioma aggressively. The words “I can’t” simply
do not exist in his vocabulary. From his early days in South Beloit, Illinois,
to a successful banking career in Southern California, Wally has charted
a course that shunned the easy path for the more difficult but more rewarding
In South Beloit, Wally spent his formative years working in the family
business and developing a steadfast work ethic from an early age. The
Nielsen family lived near a municipal airport and Wally became fascinated
with flying, working hard to eventually obtain a private pilot’s
license. When he was drafted for military service he continued his interest
in airplanes by enrolling in the Navy’s aviation school. After completing
his active duty, Wally went on to work with an engineering firm in construction.
In 1963, Wally seized another opportunity by marrying his wife, Arleen,
and taking a job as a loan officer at Bank of America, permanently leaving
the world of aviation and military. “I never thought I would work
behind a desk,” added Wally with a shake of his head, but that “desk
job” turned into a very successful and diverse career in banking,
which he thoroughly enjoyed until his retirement in 1997.
Reflecting on their latest challenge, the Nielsens fully understand that
cancer is a foe that doesn’t always respect strength, courage, compassion
or the latest medical breakthroughs. Despite doing everything right, Wally
laments that there “are days that it seems like it’s all just
a bad dream and that I’ll wake up and it will be gone.”
The Nielsen’s are grateful for the excellent care they have received
from the UCLA Medical Center – “A fantastic hospital with
an incredible staff and wonderful facilities for accompanying family members.”
More importantly, the Nielsen’s are committed to a full road to
recovery for Wally and a return to the goals, passions, and interests
that have defined his life.
April 12, 2011