Eleven long days later, Sharon took Harold to the doctor on June 16, 1998.
Sharon explained to the doctor that she felt short of breath, fatigued
and nausea to the point of vomiting. Sharon asked if she might have pneumonia,
too. Her physician immediately ordered a chest film. Two weeks passed
with no word concerning the chest film.
On June 26, 1999, Sharon returned to her doctor, who was concerned. Sharon
looked jaundiced, and tired. With her history of weight loss, vomiting
and exhaustion, the doctor first thought Sharon had hepatitis. He placed
a stethoscope on Sharon's back, listened carefully, and heard fluid.
He called the hospital where the chest x-ray had been taken and found
that it had never been read. Eventually a doctor did read it, who confirmed
the presence of fluid in the right chest cavity, which raised the possibility of tumor.
Sharon's doctor referred her to a pulmonary specialist, who performed
a right thoracentesis on July 2, 1998, draining 1500 cc of fluid from
her right chest cavity. Initially, this procedure provided Sharon some
relief. A post-procedure chest film revealed that there was still significant
pleural fluid around the right lung. The specialist scheduled a repeat
thoracentesis to evacuate the remaining fluid.
On July 7, 1998, the pulmonary specialist drained another 1500 cc of bloody fluid.
While cytology from the first thoracentesis was not yet complete, the specialist
felt that Sharon had either a significant tumor or, possibly but less
likely, a rheumatoid effusion. The doctor decided to wait for the cytology
report before scheduling any other procedure such a thoroscopy or a closed
Cytology from both thoracenteses was inconclusive.
On September 3, 1998, a surgeon performed an exploratory thoracotomy on
Sharon. He made a small incision near the armpit and removed two liters
of fluid. The surgeon searched the pleural cavity and unfortunately found
studding along the pleural and diaphragmatic surfaces. He took several
biopsies, which conclusively diagnosed mesothelioma. The surgeon placed
talc in the pleural space to prevent further accumulation of fluid. Both
the pulmonary specialist and the surgeon urged the medical community at
M.D. Anderson in Houston, Texas to see Sharon immediately.
Sharon had been told that she might be eligible for pleurectomy. She traveled
to M.D. Anderson for consultation and possible surgery. However, she learned
that the thoracic surgeons at M.D. Anderson did not perform pleurectomies.
Rather, M.D. Anderson offered her a randomized trial with Onconase and
Doxorubicin. After much consideration, the family decided to seek the
medical opinion of Dr. Valerie Rusch at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer
Center in New York City.
The Briscoe's met with Dr. Rusch at Sloan-Kettering in early October.
After a series of tests, Dr. Rusch determined that because of the tumor's
size, surgery was not yet an option. They hoped chemotherapy would shrink
the tumor sufficiently to permit surgery.
Mrs. Briscoe returned to M.D. Anderson for another consultation regarding
chemotherapy. Oncologists at M.D. Anderson explained that there was no
standard chemotherapy for the treatment of mesothelioma, but that the
combination of Cytoxin, Doxorubicin (also called Adriamycin) and Cisplatin
had produced reasonable results. Sharon wished to be treated near home,
so doctors at M.D. Anderson referred her to an oncologist in Richardson, Texas.
From late November of 1998 to February of 1999, she had four two-day sessions
of chemotherapy administered intravenously at a local Dallas hospital.
The first day lasted five hours and the second day another four hours.
She suffered horrifying side effects from her first treatment. Sharon
stated, "It was though I had drank lighter fluid. And that's
all I could taste or smell for two weeks, and it was sickening."
Sharon did not want to return for further treatment; she wanted to "shoot
A humiliating side effect was hair loss. A very attractive woman, Sharon
was particularly proud of her hair, which was thick, full-bodied, and
styled to perfection. After chemotherapy, Sharon recounted that "I
got in the shower and when I rinsed my hair, my hair ran down over my
face. And I looked down and the drain was covered with hair and I panicked."
After months of struggling with the regimen of chemotherapy, weight loss
and weakness, Sharon developed pneumonia. On January 11, 1999, she was
rushed to the hospital where she spent nine grueling days, six of them
in critical care, fighting for her life.
Sharon's family kept an ongoing vigil throughout her hospitalization.
Doctors counseled the family, preparing them for her death. But Sharon
surprised them all by rallying against the pneumonia, and she returned
home. Although she was reliant upon oxygen twenty-four hours a day, weak
and unable to do anything but lie on the sofa, Sharon kept her optimistic
outlook to help her family cope with her tragic illness.
Part of the Briscoe tragedy is the manner of Sharon's exposure to asbestos.
Sharon never worked as an insulator, a pipefitter or a boilermaker. For
most of her life, Sharon was a homemaker, providing a warm, loving home
for her husband and their two sons, John, a professional baseball player;
and Craig, a compensation analyst. Sharon was an "outdoors"
person. She took great joy in yard work. She weeded meticulously. She
pruned and trimmed her hedges, and planted flowers with loving hands.
She boasted of the most beautiful lawn in the neighborhood. She loved
to throw pool parties for friends.
But much earlier in her life, Sharon had lived with her brother, a drywaller,
in Kansas City, Kansas. Sharon's brother worked with asbestos-containing
products all the time, and he literally brought his work home with him
in the form of asbestos dust on his clothes. Sharon's brother was
the innocent and unwitting courier of her mesothelioma.
In February of 1999, Sharon told us the hardest part about having mesothelioma
was knowing that her "life was almost over". We are saddened
to say that Sharon's courageous battle ended on April 6, 1999.
*** POSTED JUNE 17, 1999 ***