After undergoing a series of tests on fluid and tissue removed from his
chest last year, 65 year-old Benny Sims was diagnosed with malignant pleural
mesothelioma. The retired electrician and contractor recalls that over
a period of months several physicians told him that he had an incurable
cancer, and each had his own way of breaking the news: "One told
me, 'Just go home and get your stuff together.' You know, he didn't
tell me I was going to die, he just said, 'Go home and get your stuff
Benny Sims is not the type to "go home and wait to die." He has
chosen to fight back - with a loving wife, a skilled surgeon and a strong
dose of good old fashioned grit.
A FALL WHILE JOGGING LEADS TO DIAGNOSIS
His troubles began in the summer of 2002. Enthusiasts for any outdoor activity
imaginable -- water skiing, jet skiing, fishing, camping, taking long
hikes and bicycling -- Benny and his wife Pam had recently purchased a
motor home with grand hopes of spending their retirement years traveling
the U.S. and Canada. In early June, Benny was jogging and accidentally
tripped, taking a right-sided shoulder roll as he went down. He got up
and brushed himself off.
About a week after, on June 10, Benny began having a sharp pain that went
from the right lower rib cage back to the kidney area. He had experienced
back pain in the past, and assumed the source of his pain was a pinched
nerve. He had a doctor's appointment scheduled for June 21, so he
decided to endure the pain until then.
On June 21, Benny's doctor examined him and advised that his pain was
not related to the fall, but rather could be related to his gall bladder.
The pain became so severe that Benny had to be admitted to the hospital.
Several tests were taken, including an abdominal ultrasound. The ultrasound
revealed a right pleural effusion. Chest films and a CT scan followed,
and confirmed the presence of fluid in the chest cavity, as well as a
partial collapse of the right lung. The CT scan also showed bilateral
pleural plaques, an indicator of prior, heavy asbestos exposure. A thoracentesis
performed the same day drained fluid from the right thoracic cavity. Tests
performed on the fluid in the pathology laboratory were suspicious for
The fluid was then sent to Stanford University in Palo Alto, California.
After several tests, pathologists at Stanford reported a working diagnosis
of mesothelioma. To be absolutely sure, they recommended that Benny undergo
a tissue biopsy. The Simses were quickly referred to Dr. Robert Cameron
of the UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles, California. Dr. Cameron is
one of the foremost surgeons in the world treating mesothelioma and helped
found the Mesothelioma Applied Research Foundation (
On July 22, Benny consulted with Dr. Cameron, who after reviewing the medical
records also recommended a pleural biopsy. On July 30, Benny underwent
a right and left pleural biopsy at the UCLA Medical Center. Specimens
removed from his right chest cavity and tested by pathologists at UCLA
confirmed the diagnosis of mesothelioma.
AN ALL-OUT FIGHT WITH SURGERY AND RADIATION
On August 16, Dr. Cameron informed Benny that the tumor appeared to be
in the early stages and localized to one area, and that he would be a
suitable candidate for pleurectomy with decortication. Benny wanted a
chance at prolonging his life, and decided to go forward with the surgery.
Eighteen days later, on September 3, Cameron performed a five-and-one-half
hour surgery, which included the surgical removal of a rib and the lining
of the left lung, and scraping the interior chest wall of all visible
tumor. Benny remained hospitalized for the next nine days. After his discharge,
he continued to experience excruciating "recovery" pain, but
his incisions were healing well.
In October, Benny began a five-week radiation treatment cycle, with treatments
five days a week. One side effect of the radiation therapy was radiation
burns, which Benny likened to "big ol' volcanoes." He also
suffered loss of appetite and maddening skin itch.
Recently, Benny has developed debilitating shortness of breath. According
to Pam, he can only get five words out, five steps forward, and then he's
out of breath. The Simses are currently trying to get Benny treatment
with Interferon, but are having difficulty getting approval through Medicaid.
He is under the care of a pain management specialist and takes Oxycontin.
To help with the depression common to patients with incurable cancer,
Benny takes Zoloft.
Benny now hopes his body will let him have just a sampling of what could
have been. He wants to keep fighting, but mesothelioma has shattered his
and Pam's lifelong dreams. "Here I worked all my life to get
up to where I could retire. Get a motor home, go on vacation. I got the
motor home, I went on vacation, and mesothelioma just jumped up and bit me."
We will keep you posted on the progress of this couple determined to enjoy
the retirement they worked so hard for.
*** POSTED APRIL 21, 2003 ***
Mr. Sims passed away on April 19, 2003.