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49 Year Old Executive With Mesothelioma

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Bill Powell is 49 years old and a former Vice President at Visa International in Foster City, California.

He was born in Portsmouth, Virginia in 1950. His father was an electrician in the Norfolk Naval Shipyard from 1939 to 1975. His mother was a Licensed Practical Nurse. Both his parents are still living.

Bill grew up in Portsmouth and after serving in the Army for three years attended Old Dominion University in Norfolk. While in the Army he was married in 1970. He worked part-time at a couple of banks while attending college and ended upon pursuing a banking career. His career moved him several times. He lived in Portsmouth, Richmond and Virginia Beach, VA, Winston-Salem NC and Atlanta before moving to San Francisco in 1996.

During his life he had very diverse personal interests. For around 15 years he played competitive slow pitch softball. He was a runner from 1975 to 1995, running seriously (around 30 races, including two half marathons) from 1990 to 1995. He enjoyed camping and wilderness canoeing and for a few years, from 1993 to 1996, participated in long distance cycling.

Until diagnosed with cancer, Bill was essentially never sick a day in his life.

In March 1997 during a camping trip in Big Sur with his wife Lisa and daughter Allison, he began to experience chest pains and shortness of breath. He toughed it out for a couple of days, but when he returned to SF, he and his wife went to the emergency room at Kaiser South San Francisco. He was admitted to the hospital after being diagnosed with a large left pleural effusion.

During his three day hospital stay a thoracentesis was performed and roughly two liters of fluid removed. The cytology report revealed no malignant cells.

Over the course of the next few weeks, Bill visited the Kaiser facility a couple of times for follow-up chest x-rays. The remaining fluid did not subside and in late April, another thoracentesis was performed. The doctor also removed two pleural tissue samples. Three days later on April 28, the doctor called and told him the pathology report revealed cancer cells on the tissue samples. The diagnosis was metastatic adenocarcinoma.

Within two days, Bill was introduced to Dr. Laurie Weisberg, a Kaiser Oncologist. She ordered head, chest and abdomen CT scans. A bone scan was also performed as well as a number of blood tests. The tests revealed nothing. The ultimate diagnosis was adenocarcinoma of unknown primary.

From late May until mid-September, six cycles of chemotherapy (cisplatin, etoposide) were administered. In the middle of the treatment, as a result of a second opinion received from a UCSF oncologist, a thoracoscopy was performed. The original diagnoses was validated by sight, though tissue samples removed revealed no cancer cells at all. Chemotherapy was continued. During that time he experienced hair loss and the typical nausea and fatigue. The only apparent long-term effect has been a high-frequency hearing loss.

Bill was put on close observation after that, receiving CT scans or chest x-rays every three months. Each time the films were clear until October 1998, though each CT scan revealed some left pleural thickening. In October, a nodule roughly the size of a quarter was discovered. The nodule was surgically removed in November 1998 and the diagnosis changed to malignant mesothelioma.

He asked Dr. Weisberg to refer him to an expert in the field and was ultimately introduced to Dr. David Jablons of the UCSF Cancer Center.

Dr. Jablons ordered a PET scan. Bill brought the results to his office on December 4, 1998 along with films and medical reports put together by Dr. Weisberg. Dr. Jablons said without hesitation that the diagnosis was mesothelioma. He prescribed a trimodal treatment approach consisting of a radical pleurectomy with intraoperative radiation, radiation and chemotherapy. He thought Bill would be a good candidate for the procedure because of his age and the progression of the disease. Kaiser agreed with his recommendation.

The surgery was performed on January 21, 1999. Bill was on the table for nearly 12 hours. When he woke up he was told by Dr. Jablons that the surgery went well. He said he'd removed all the tumor he could see. Bill was in the hospital for nine days before going home to be cared for by his wife.

Bill convalesced at home for a little over three weeks. He returned to work in mid-February and tried to work full time with moderate success. Some days he just had to go home and rest.

In early March he started taking radiation treatments. There were 29 treatments that finished up on April 20.

Chemotherapy treatments were started in mid-May and continued through the middle of July.

During the nearly three years Bill's been fighting cancer, he's tried to keep a positive attitude. He's never been bitter or asked the "why me?" question. He occasionally feels sorry for himself, but typically manages to get past those feelings pretty quickly.

A mental health professional would probably say Bill's in denial. He's studied the grim statistics for mesothelioma patients and heard doctors suggest it's not curable. To this day though, Bill elects not to believe that and never asks any doctor for an opinion regarding his life expectancy. His preference is not to know and to hope and pray that a cure is found soon.

Bill will tell you he has been impressed with the medical professionals he's met during the past three years; from chemo nurses to highly trained physicians. He adores Dr. Weisberg and enjoys being around her. Bill says he's ecstatic though, to be in the care of Dr. Jablons. He believes Dr. Jablons is first a human being and then a first class physician and cancer researcher. He talks to his patients as if he's genuinely concerned about them as people. Bill always feels better after a visit with him.

"I've spent time with many doctors during the past two years. Most could take lessons from Dr. Jablons about how to treat patients. No matter what happens to me, I feel privileged to have had the opportunity to know him." Bill has enthusiastically stated.

Bill elected to leave Visa on October 1 to spend more time with his family. He's on close observation by both Doctors Weisberg and Jablons. In the shorter term, that means a CT scan and other tests every three months.

Bill Powell
phone: 415-584-9213 fax: 415-333-3132
email: bipowell@mindspring.com

* Mr. Powell is represented by Brayton, Purcell

*** POSTED JULY 1, 1999 ***

November 1, 1999 addendum (from Bill Powell):

Here's an update.

After my surgery I received 29 radiation treatments from February through April. I then had four more cycles of chemotherapy which ended July 16. I continued to work all that time but elected to leave Visa October 1.

I'm now on close observation by both Doctors Weisberg and Jablons. In the shorter term, that means a CT scan and other tests every three months.

August 2, 2000 - An Update

Dear Friends,

Late last night Lisa and I returned from Duke University Medical Center after learning that my first two cycles of chemotherapy (gemcytabine and CPT-11) had a positive impact on my disease. A CT scan revealed enough tumor reduction to continue the clinical study for two more cycles. Two cycles is six treatments, the first of which was administered yesterday. (This is the first study of its kind on mesothelioma patients using both CPT-11 and gemcytabine).

My initial symptoms, including chest pain and an almost incapacitating cough, have all but disappeared. I feel more normal than I have in months. Mind you, after three surgeries, 29 radiation treatments and 12 cycles of chemotherapy, my definition of normal is not what it once was. I can no longer paddle my canoe 100 miles, run a half-marathon or ride my bike 50 miles, but I can climb the steps in the house and walk to the beach. That's now my normal and I'll take it.

We're now in our 40th month of fighting this horrible disease. Malignant mesothelioma is a vicious tumor that routinely kills its victims in six to 12 months. I attribute my ability to fight this long [and much longer, I might add] to Lisa's love and complete devotion to taking care of me, divine intervention, the love and support of my family, early detection, extraordinary medical care and the kind words, karma and prayers sent my way from many of you.

There are not many positives about having cancer. One of its few redeeming qualities is that it allows one to put things in perspective. I worked hard all my life and I'm glad for that. But I hope everyone will remember a couple of quotes from the Book of Bill, one quasi-original, one not...you be the judge. [1] "No one on his or her death bed says, "Gee, I wish I'd spent more time at the office."", [2] "Work...it's just something to do between the weekends." Focus on what's important.

And by the way, if you have money you don't know what to do with, consider MARF. The organization has developed from a gleam its founder's eye to an effective advocate to eliminate mesothelioma as a life-ending disease. Take a look at the site... http://www.marf.org/

I can't thank you folks enough for the support you've provided Lisa and me over the past three years.

God bless you all.
Bill Powell

November 22, 2000 - An Update

Hello Friends, Lisa and I just returned from Duke University Medical Center where we learned my cancer has stabilized and even subsided a bit in a few places. This is the best news we could have hoped for. The treatments I've been getting have done all they can do for now, so I get a break from chemotherapy for the holidays. I'll get another CT scan the latter part of January. Woo-hoo. Thanks again to each of you for your kind words, karma and prayers since the last update. As I've mentioned many times, cancer is pretty much a total bummer...but you folks certainly make dealing with it a lot easier. We love you all. Happy holidays to you and your families.

Bill Powell passed away on March 13, 2001

An account of Bill's memorial service from MARF's Executive Director, Chris Hahn. March 16, 2001