Joseph "Joe" Galarneau, a 75 year old retired laborer, boilermaker
and Merchant Marine, was diagnosed with malignant pleural mesothelioma
around January 25, 2001. Joe and his wife Zinnetta, both originally from
Maine, now call Zephyrhills, Florida home in retirement. On April 21 of
this year, Joe and Zinnetta mark their 51st year of marriage.
Joe's troubles began around April, 2000, when he noticed a pain under
the breast and back shoulder blade on the right side. He went to see his
family physician, Dr. Nancy Sibert, at the V.A. Hospital in Tampa, Florida.
Chest films showed the presence of pleural effusions on the right side.
He was admitted to the V.A. that day and kept overnight. On the day of
his admission, he was referred to a staff pulmonologist, who performed
a thoracentesis utilizing an eighteen-gauge needle between two ribs in
the back. The thoracentesis produced approximately half a liter of reddish
fluid. Cytological tests did not reveal a malignancy. The pulmonologist
initially thought he might have pleurisy.
Every five or six weeks, Joe returned to the V.A. Hospital for repeat chest
films, which showed that a small amount of fluid remained. From May on,
Joe noticed that he was losing weight. His normal weight was 205 pounds;
he now weighs 170 pounds. Joe stands five feet four inches tall.
On Halloween, a bronchoscopy was performed at the V.A. in which a spot
was found on the right lung and removed. Joe does not recall the name
of the surgeon who performed the bronchoscopy. He was then referred to
Dr. Peniston, whom he saw approximately two weeks after the bronchoscopy.
The V.A. operating room was booked for so many surgeries that it took
over a month-and-a-half to schedule the biopsy procedure on January 25,
2001. Dr. Peniston made an incision on the side on the right, below the
armpit and just at the level beneath the nipple, and harvested tissue
from outside the right lung. Joe has been told that the tumor covers the
right lung. He does not know if talc was insufflated.
On January 26, Dr. Peniston informed Joe that he had mesothelioma. He told
him that there is no cure. The pathology department released its report
confirming the diagnosis on January 27.
Joe Galarneau, post surgery
Joe and Zinnetta were devastated. The words "no cure" kept clanging
in their ears like a bell that won't stop. They are "joined at
the hip" -- their lives are inextricably intertwined. Zinnetta is
completely dependent on Joe, as she has long had severe arthritis and
fibromyalgia. Before falling ill, Joe did everything for Zinnetta: he
cooked for her, he cleaned for her, and he cared for her when she was
sick. Zinnetta does not even have a license to drive; Joe has always driven
her to her many doctor's appointments. Now they both worry, who will
take care of Joe as the tumor advances?
Before falling ill with mesothelioma, Joe was the kind of man who always
stayed busy, even in retirement. His son Roy remembers how Joe would work
a twelve hour day, walk to the refrigerator, pull out a bite to eat, and
go to his woodshop to work. In retirement, Joe kept up the pace. Joe is
a gifted woodworker, building wall and grandfather clocks, desks and other
gifts for his family and friends. He proudly points to one piece of wood
furniture after another, crafted by his hand.
The Galarneaus are tough, hardy folk who retain the accent and to-the-point
manner characteristic of Mainers. They've weathered many a bad storm,
literally and figuratively. Joe worked most of his life in boiler rooms.
He has withstood the heat and stayed in the kitchen all of his life. He
wants to live, for himself and for Zinnetta, but right now, he is in a
After Joe was diagnosed, he was referred to an oncologist at the V.A. to
discuss his treatment options. But Joe kept hearing good things about
the H. L. Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa. One of Moffitt's surgeons
is Dr. Lary Robinson, a renowned mesothelioma treater and a Science Advisory
Board member of the Mesothelioma Applied Research Foundation, Inc. (
MARF), a 501(c) not-for-profit corporation which aims to eradicate mesothelioma
as a life-ending disease. Joe realizes that Moffitt cannot offer an over-the-
fence "cure," but he'll settle for any treatment option
that puts him on base and in the hunt.
Sadly, Joe's health insurance would not pay for treatment at Moffitt,
so Joe is battling the insurance companies so that he can have a shot
at Moffitt's cutting-edge treatment. We are pulling for this wonderful
couple in their struggle with mesothelioma -- a relentless tumor that
does not respect kindness, charity or good deeds.
*** POSTED APRIL 19, 2001 ***
An Update -- 8/23/01
Joe recently went for chemotherapy, but halted after one treatment, the
pain and sickness proving to be too much for this tough, retired laborer.
His condition has progressively worsened, he needs a steady supply of
morphine to stave away the pain in his right lung, and his body's
battle against this illness forces him to sleep much more than ever before.
Zinnetta's own condition is nothing to cause celebration, and as it
has become increasingly difficult for Joe to get around, the two of them
must rely on their son in Lakeland more and more. He has no problem helping
his parents get to the care they need; however, his demanding work schedule,
to which he is subject, does not always make it possible for him to get
there when they need him.
Joe and Zinnetta are fighting still. According to her, he is not doing
as well as he sounds, pointing to the fact that he has lost thirty more
pounds from his already dwindling frame. It is evident over the phone,
however, that the spirit is still there, despite how weak the body really
is at this point. The two are lucky to have each other, and all they can
do is stop and wonder how something like this could happen to them.
A husband and wife dreamed of a beautiful, extended retirement with each
other, and they both worked tirelessly their entire lives to get there.
And now, the certainty of that dream hangs in the balance. Doctors at
the VA Hospital and at H.L. Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa offered treatment
that would possibly extend his life by months, but would be far from a
cure. Both of these treatments however did promise effort and agony.
The Galarneau's don't know what is going to happen. For now, they'll
wait and see.
Mr. Galarneau passed away on October 31, 2001