Marilyn and Richard Stratton March, 2007
Healthy, active, and always involved in a dozen different projects, Marilyn
Stratton's active lifestyle meant that she was accustomed to lots
of physical activity without ever batting an eye.
As a career interior decorator, Marilyn was used to lifting boxes, carrying
heavy samples of rugs, tiles, wallpaper, carpets, and countless catalogs
that showcased the tools of her trade. Until the summer months of 2006,
when she began experiencing pain in her chest, Marilyn had been healthy
her whole life long.
Concerned that someone as fit and active as she would be suffering from
chest pains, her husband insisted on a visit to the doctor. X-rays taken
in early June revealed a build-up of fluid around her lung. Was this pneumonia?
The doctor was concerned and insisted on a thoracentesis later that month
at St. Vincent's Hospital in Portland.
What began as a simple chest pain developed into news of the most horrific
sort: pathology analysis of the fluid resulted in a diagnosis of malignant
Circling the wagons
On October, 16, 2006, her doctor performed a biopsy and talc pleurodesis.
Like most people diagnosed with mesothelioma, Marilyn had to make a series
of complex, rapid-fire decisions with her doctor about what next to do.
The difficulty with meso, of course, is that even the physicians who specialize
in its treatment have different opinions on the best course of treatment.
The disease is almost individualistic, requiring doctors to carefully
weigh their options depending on staging, lymph-node involvement, age,
co-morbidity factors, cellular type, and a host of other criteria. All
of this must be done at utmost speed, because time is always the enemy.
Marilyn was referred to an oncologist in Portland who had her undergo four
rounds of Alimta/cisplatin chemotherapy. Although this regimen is the
only procedure approved by the FDA for treatment of mesothelioma, surgeons
and oncologists recognize that the best survival outcomes are generally
obtained by multimodal therapy that includes surgery as the bedrock treatment.
While she was undergoing chemo, Marilyn was referred to Dr. Eric Vallieres
at the Swedish Cancer Institute in Seattle for a surgical consultation.
One of the nation's leading mesothelioma surgeons, after meeting with
Marilyn Dr. Vallieres concluded that she was a candidate for the surgery.
Marilyn decided to undergo an extra-pleural pneumonectomy (EPP) with Dr.
Girding for battle
In the work-up prior to surgery, it was discovered that Marilyn had a lump
in her throat. On January 5, 2007, Dr. Vallieres performed a mediastinoscopy.
Pathology analysis of the node was negative for malignancy. This was a
huge relief to Marilyn, because the lymph nodes are the super-highway
of the body, capable of instantly spreading cancerous cells to distant
locations. Because the node was not malignant, the surgery could go forward
This major operation went extraordinarily well, owing in part to the skill
of Dr. Vallieres and in part to the toughness and resiliency of Marilyn.
She came through it with flying colors and was on the fast track for the
day that every patients dreams of: a hospital discharge and ticket to
go back home.
One week after surgery, however, Marilyn got a lung infection and had to
go back into the hospital for antibiotics to quell the infection. Having
only one lung, any type of viral attack could be critical. From the end
of January through the onset of radiation was when she felt the worst.
She was weak, out of breath, and not feeling good for months. The combination
of the infection and the inflammation had taken a toll early on in her
recovery, but as a strong and tough fighter she finally she got beyond it.
One consequence of the EPP that has remained with Marilyn is chronic shortness
of breath. She was admitted to Swedish Hospital in Seattle in March to
determine the cause of the shortness of breath.
As soon as the testing for the cause of her shortness of breath is completed,
Marilyn is scheduled to begin a course of 30 radiation treatments that
will be administered over a period of six weeks.
Marilyn had a December consultation with her pulmonologist and surgeon,
as well as a CT scan, and the results were completely clear. Her next
scheduled appointment is in April. As a result of the CT scan she's
been taken off all her medicines: heart medications, coumadin, Alimta/cisplatin,
prednisone (steroid for post-surgery infection and inflammation in remaining
lung, high dosage), prilosec, sulphasalazine (colitis-still taking), metotrolol
(heart medication), warfarin (heart medication), magnesium because level
had dropped post surgery (quickly regained normal rates), oxycodone (painkiller),
and zofran (anti-nausea drug to combat side effect of steroid).
Dr. Vallieres is very optimistic and has been positive through the whole
process. Even during the lung infection he said it was "just a bump
in the road," and is very pleased with the good health and strength
of this courageous woman. The pulmonologist said that she would never
completely get her breath back, but time would tell and significant improvement
has always been a reasonable and very attainable goal. The radiologist
said that she had every reason to be optimistic because it appeared that
the chemotherapy did a very good job. Dr. Vallieres's skillful hands
seemed to have removed all of the gross tumor, and the radiation had "sterilized
Marilyn is constantly amazed at how an extremely busy surgeon like Dr.
Vallieres seems to have all the time in the world for her when she's
in his office. "He's so friendly and always gives me a hug. He's
very different from many of the other physicians with whom I've had
to deal," Marilyn says with a laugh.
Marilyn couldn't be happier about the results of the CT scan and being
"cancer clear." Although she doesn't feel 100% yet, she's
very pleased with her status. She's feeling better and her friends
tell her she looks wonderful.
Living with mesothelioma
Marilyn's life has been night and day different since surgery. Before,
she rarely sat down, was a workaholic, always healthy, and didn't
tire easily. Mesothelioma has pulled her former lifestyle up short. During
these last few months Marilyn has led a totally different lifestyle. She
used to walk five miles twice/weekly, and all her other activities and
she worked full time.
Marilyn continues to amaze the doctors who treat her. She's already
made a habit of walking 1.25 miles, and her GP was astounded. To Marilyn
the recovery has gone slowly but in perspective she thinks the recovery
has been fast. She doesn't have the strength for pulling fabric off
shelves and putting them back up again, or for furniture delivery and
hoisting large area rugs she used to carry by herself. On the other hand,
she's discovered that the world has no shortage of people who make
a living doing these very things!
Her skills as a decorator have been showcased in three "Street of
Dreams" homes and a number of "Showplace Homes" in the
Portland area during her lengthy and respected career. At the spry and
vigorous age of 73, Marilyn is still coping with the dent that mesothelioma
has made in her active, productive, and fulfilling lifestyle prior to
the onset of symptoms.
Marilyn and her husband Richard once kept active by going on walks together.
Their favorite place was at downtown Portland's waterfront. Now, she
is out of breath after simply walking across the room. This has made getting
around their multi-story home difficult and painstaking.
In recent years, Marilyn and Richard traveled the world together. Singapore,
Bangkok, Canary Islands, New Zealand, Australia, and an annual trip to
Mexico are just a few of the destinations they have enjoyed.
A loving mom and grandmother, Marilyn also enjoys spending time with her
two daughters, Susan and Shari, both of whom live nearby. She also enjoys
spending time with her five grandsons, three of whom are students at Oregon
State University, of whom is serving in the U.S. Air Force, and one who
is in high school. With courage and an indomitable will, Marilyn continues
with great cheer and grace.
*** POSTED MARCH 25, 2008 ***
An Update --
Marilyn has never felt more happy or blessed in her life. She’s put
off working since the fall in order to fully enjoy her good health and
time with her family. Every six weeks, she undergoes a CT scan and sees
Dr. Vallieres to monitor her mesothelioma. She’s still “cancer-clear.”
Marilyn is grateful to the whole team at Swedish Cancer Institute and the
impressive quality of care they offer. She’s never known a doctor
more involved or caring than Dr. Vallieres. Marilyn has his personal number
and it never ceases to amaze her when he actually picks up to answers
any questions at all hours.
Marilyn, Richard and Deanna. April, 2009
Marilyn and Richard purchased a condo close to downtown Portland last year
with spectacular views of the city and river. It fits their lifestyle
perfectly and they love entertaining family and friends in it. They also
frequently travel and recently got back from their annual trip to Mexico.
They met up with 13 other family and friends at their timeshare and had
a lovely time.
The newest edition to the family is little Deanna. Marilyn and Richard’s
first granddaughter! Their daughter, Shari and her husband Jon adopted
Deanna from an orphanage in Ukraine last year.
Deanna was born with a cleft lip and palate. Since her palate was never
corrected in Ukraine, that was the first thing Shari and Jon took care
of when they brought her home
. According to Marilyn, Deanna is the most delightful, outgoing, charming,
expressive little girl you could ask for. She has transitioned beautifully
to her new life and is an absolute joy to be around.
Marilyn would “hate to have missed all this” were it not for
her blessed health.
An Update -- 3/12/2010
Marilyn is happy to report that she is "feeling really good these
days". She is currently not involved in any type of treatment and
at the present time is not taking any medications. She goes back to her
doctor every six months for check up and is pleased that so far everything
is looking good.
Marilyn and her husband have a wonderful trip planned this Spring for their
50th wedding anniversary. They will be traveling to Rome and then will
cruise the Mediterranean before ending their trip in Venice for 3 days.
*** Marilyn Stratton passed away on November 19, 2010 ***