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62 Year-Old Surfer, Riding The Rough Waves Of Mesothelioma

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Mike is a warm and engaging man who possesses the type of physical and spiritual strength that can only be attained from years of surfing.

The avid surfer led a very active lifestyle and regularly enjoyed riding the local breaks close to home and in Hawaii. Born in the Midwest, Mike moved to Southern California when he was six years old where he’s remained ever since. The 62 year-old lead maintenance mechanic held a physically demanding job and had no plans of slowing down or retiring until his symptoms developed.

In January of 2012, Mike started experiencing chest pain and noticed he was unable to take a deep breath without coughing. He presented to Sharp Memorial Hospital where he was found to have a small left pleural effusion. He was diagnosed with pneumonia and prescribed antibiotics and an inhaler. When his symptoms worsened, he was referred to a pulmonologist and in February, underwent a left pleural thoracentesis which displayed atypical mesothelial cells. He had a second thoracentesis done in April with consistent results. Unfortunately, he experienced severe pain during the procedure which persisted afterward causing him to present to urgent care twice.

Given the persistence of the pleural effusion, the atypical mesothelial cells and Mike’s occupational asbestos exposure, a pleural biopsy was recommended for definitive diagnosis. Mike subsequently underwent a pleural biopsy and talc pleurodesis.

While in postoperative care, Mike developed extreme right calf pain and was found to have DVT (deep venous thrombosis). DVT is a serious blood clot in the lower legs at risk for moving through the bloodstream and causing blockage in the brain, lungs, heart, or other area, potentially leading to severe damage. Mike’s blood clot lodged in one of his lungs (pulmonary embolism) further complicating his recovery. He was finally discharged 10 days after surgery, and placed on anticoagulation therapy. Pathology testing confirmed the diagnosis was malignant pleural mesothelioma, epithelioid type.

Through an internet search, Mike’s family learned about Dr. Robert Cameron at UCLA. Mike met with Dr. Cameron in June and learned that luckily his disease was limited to the left pleural space and had not spread. Mike was therefore a good candidate for surgery and decided to undergo lung-sparing surgery for a better prognosis.

In June 2012, Dr. Cameron performed the pleurectomy/decortication surgery on Mike. Thereafter, he underwent six weeks with 25 rounds of radiation under the direction of UCLA radiation oncologist Dr. Michael Selch. “I was one of the first patients to get radiation with UCLA’s new Tomo-Therapy equipment”, Mike said, “Dr. Cameron and his team are on the cutting edge when it comes to treating meso. For mesothelioma, the experts are at UCLA."

Mike vows to support mesothelioma research conducted a the Pacific Meso Center under the direction Dr. Robert Cameron: “I’ve personally benefitted from Dr. Cameron’s research supported by patients before me affected by this disease. Now it’s my turn. With a little luck, I’ll be around long enough to benefit from the research they do with my support.

Although Mike has been unable to surf since his diagnosis, he tries to get his exercise in by walking around his neighborhood a few times a day. His wife gauges his wellness by his ability to “get his blood flowing” daily. According to her, “Some days he doesn’t feel up for his daily walk and it scares me. It also scares me when he’s not cracking his jokes or laughing at mine. What people need to understand is that it’s a really long road. Meso is painful and it’s draining and you need to stay positive and laughter to cope.”

Indeed Mike has remained a constant optimist and has maintained his sense of humor throughout this unexpected journey. His wife meticulously keeps track of all his appointments and medications and if necessary, argues with the insurance companies to get treatments approved and covered. “It’s day by day and baby step little victories sometimes” according to her. “In the same way that we hope Mike gradually gets better over time. “ With his wife by his side, Mike is in very good hands.

*** Posted on April 8, 2013 ***