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Third Year of Remission and Still Counting

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Gary Cooper has always been an active guy with lots of pep and vigor. Born in 1941 in Pueblo, Colorado, he was the youngest of five siblings and grew up working on his family’s farm. Gary met his wife Susan when he moved into the apartment complex she lived in; their courtship consisted of them playing pranks on one another.

One such prank began when Susan and a friend decided to duct tape Gary into his apartment. He went duck hunting that day and retaliated by hanging his bounty on their door; the next morning he found the duck on the floor of his car, which had been encased in about three years’ worth of newspaper.

Gary and Susan have been happily married now for 44 years; they have two children, Lance and Tanya, and two grandchildren, Katelyn and Molly.

Gary’s usual pep and vigor changed to tired and weak in early 2009. He began experiencing discomfort and swelling in his throat which an x-ray revealed to be a growth. In order to get to his esophagus, cardiothoracic surgeon Dr. Dawn Jaroszewski at the Phoenix Campus of Mayo Clinic needed to collapse his right lung. Dr. Jaroszewski noticed multiple nodules on the lining surrounding his lung and took biopsy samples for testing. The growth in Gary’s throat was benign but the biopsy of his lung tissue was positive for malignant pleural mesothelioma.

Gary andSusan Cooper with their children, Tanya and Lance at the Johnson Space Center the day before his surgery.
Gary and Susan were shocked upon learning of his diagnosis, Gary said he, “felt like someone had cut me off below the knee, but then I regrouped and said, you know, I don't care what I got, I’m still here, I'm going to whip it.” Gary had worked his entire life in the farming industry as a salesman, and reluctantly retired only when his health forced him to.

Gary was subsequently referred to Dr. David C. Rice, Associate Professor of the Department of Thoracic and Cardiovascular Surgery at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas. They decided on a treatment plan consisting of chemotherapy followed by surgery. Gary did four monthly sessions of chemo with oncologist Dr. Helen Ross. In August of 2009, Dr. Rice performed the pleural decortication surgery which included removing the center lobe of his right lung.

It has been three years since Gary’s surgery, and his mesothelioma has remained in full remission. According to Gary, the hardest part of having mesothelioma is that, “There's a lot of pain involved and everything, but you learn how to live with that, it's the effect it has on your home life with your family. That's tough.” He visits the Arizona Pain Relief Center for pain management which he continues to experience due to the surgery. His esophagus condition requires ongoing treatment, which allows for frequent follow-up to monitor for any recurrence of the mesothelioma.

Gary Cooper, 1974
This past June, Gary and Susan went on a 16 day Alaskan cruise and travelled from Fairbanks down to Denali National Park, to Juneau and to Ketchikan. He even caught a 15 pound salmon! They also make regular visits to their children who both reside in the Northwest.

Gary’s story shows us the importance of early detection and receiving treatment from doctors who are familiar with mesothelioma and if not for his throat trouble, it may have been a quite a while longer before his meso was detected. “I have nothing but good things to say about my doctors, they have been wonderful, just wonderful.”

*** Posted on October 16, 2012 ***