Frank Cowperthwaite and Granddaughter, Carrie
A highly decorated Lieutenant Commander, Frank Cowperthwaite retired from
the United States Navy in 1978 after serving his country for 24 years.
His career took him all over the world. After completing Officers Candidate
School in Florida, Frank's assignments included serving as an Intelligence
Officer in Vietnam, as a Naval Attache at the United States Embassy in
Rome, Italy, and as a line officer aboard several WWII vintage ships such
as the Brownson, Norfolk, Conyngham, and Little Rock.
Upon his retirement, he returned to civilian life in Virginia and successfully
pursued a career in the real estate market.
Frank's health took an unexpected turn in the fall of 2000. He began
to feel unusually out of breath. He noticed this anomaly after completing
his regular weightlifting sessions. A lifetime Naval officer, he respected
the importance of staying in tiptop shape, and never let go of this good
habit. He tried to ignore the shortness of breath, but soon the discomfort
began to include a sharp, piercing pain along his left side.
He made an appointment with his family physician, who sent him to a pulmonologist
in Bethesda, Maryland. Several tests were taken, including chest films
which showed a pleural effusion in the left chest cavity. On December
26, he underwent a thoracentesis at the National Naval Medical Center
in Bethesda, Maryland. During the procedure, approximately 1300 cc's
of blood-tinged fluid were removed. The fluid tested negative for malignant
cells. Frank was sent home with a prescription for antibiotics.
Less than a week later, Frank returned to Bethesda in extreme pain. He
was admitted and given Heparin and Percocet to control his discomfort.
Chest films and a CT scan showed the fluid had returned. A second thoracentesis
was performed, and again failed to reveal the presence of cancer. Over
the course of the next two months, Frank had several follow-up evaluations,
each time testing negative for cancer.
With the fluid continuing to return, Frank's doctors recommended a
tissue biopsy to determine the cause. On March 7, 2001, he underwent a
CT-guided biopsy which discovered reactive mesothelial cells. On April
17, he underwent a video-assisted thoracoscopy, which was converted to
an open thoracotomy. During the procedure, the doctors noted multiple
areas of tumor involvement. The tissue specimens were examined and the
diagnosis was epithelial malignant mesothelioma.
Frank quickly met with oncologists at the National Cancer Institute (NCI)-Navy
Hematology-Oncology Clinic in Bethesda, Maryland. Several treatment options
were presented to him, including:
1. Wait until you experience more and worse symptoms;
2. Chemotherapy using Cisplatin and Gemzar;
3. Possible inclusion into the
SS1 mesothelin immunotoxin Phase I trial offered at the NCI; or ,
4. Look for additional clinical trials nationwide.
After further reviewing his medical records, several oncologists at the
NCI felt that chemotherapy was not a viable treatment. At the time, Frank
voiced his frustration: "You know, mesothelioma has a way of spoiling
a man's day. I have so many plans . . . now I can do nothing but sit
around and wait."
To clear his mind, Frank took a brief vacation to Maine and Canada to visit
family and friends. When he returned, he knew that he needed to begin
some kind of treatment as soon as possible. His military training taught
him to be on the offensive against his enemies. He summoned his courage
to fight against the darkest enemy of all --mesothelioma. His body weight
was down to 180 pounds from a normal 215 pounds. He was taking 40 milligrams
of OxyContin and ten milligrams of Ambien and Zoloft. He chose the Phase
I Study of SS1 (dsFv)-PE38 Anti-Mesothelin Immunotoxin offered at the NCI.
June 14, 2001
Mesothelin is a protein normally produced by cells lining the body's
multiple cavities. It has also been found on cells in several types of
cancer. SS1 binds very tightly to mesothelin. Pseudomonas exotoxin (PE)
is a protein made by bacteria which can kill human cells if it gets inside.
The experimental agent SS1 (dsFv)-PE38 is composed of a stable form of
SS1 and a portion of the PE. It is hoped that the SS1 will attach to the
cancer cells and permit entry of the PE, killing the cells.
On June 5, Frank checked into the NIH. On June 6 he underwent his first
treatment. A narrow catheter was placed in his arm, traveling inside a
vein, up through his shoulder, down the chest into his heart. The catheter
was 16 to 18 inches long. The SS1 was then administered 24 hours a day
for the next ten days. Frank's last treatment was on June 17. Frank
suffered fatigue, some nausea, fluid retention, and a dramatic drop in
blood pressure as a result of the experimental agent/clinical trial.
After his last treatment, Frank was discharged two days later. His second
ten-day session will begin in July. He is scheduled for three complete
sessions before being re-evaluated by his doctors. According to Frank,
there has never been a mesothelioma patient invited back for a second
session. He firmly believes that he will be the first.
While in the hospital, Frank has had much time to think about the future.
Before Timothy McVeigh's execution, Frank observed, "Timothy
McVeigh is lucky. At least he knows his death will be painless."
It is sad to know that a man who served his country proudly for over 24
years, who put his life on the line in order to improve the lives of ordinary
folks, who looked forward to a healthy and productive retirement, now
faces the future with an unrelenting tumor inside of him that has no respect
for modern medicine, good deeds or courage . Meanwhile, Timothy McVeigh,
who dedicated his life to destroying this great nation, is calmly put to sleep.
Frank is a man who has faith that hope is part of the answer. A mesothelioma
patient has few choices, as the tumor seems to call the shots. One thing
the tumor can't take from Frank is his hope, optimism and yearning
for a future he
deserves. No matter the outcome, Frank chooses life, and deserves more.
*** POSTED JUNE 22, 2001 ***
An Update -- 7/13/01
Frank returned to the NIH last week in hopes of qualifying for the next
round of SS1. After several tests his doctors determined that he would
not be allowed to continue with the treatments. Frank will return to the
Bethesda Naval Hospital next week and consult with one of their oncologist.
Keep fighting, Frank!
Mr. Cowperthwaite passed away on February 13, 2002