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Beach Babe Keeping Her Cool WIth Cryoablation


Dolores Luebke is a 58 year-old mother and recent grandmother living in the idyllic seaside village of San Clemente, California with her husband Kurt, to whom she has been married to for 32 years. She was celebrating the arrival of her first grandchild in April 2008 before questions about her own health arose.

Elation cut short

Dolores has always led a very active and healthy lifestyle. In August 2007, she and Kurt took their entire family on a vacation to Costa Rica. It was the first time they had all been on vacation together since her children moved away from home. The family did not spend their precious time lounging by the pool. Instead, they went on nature hikes, went surfing and even had a family outing on a 300 yard, ten story high zip line. Kurt says that when he presented the idea of going on the zip line, he gave Dolores the option of sitting out. She wouldn’t hear of it. According to Kurt, “she screamed the loudest when she jumped off the platform, but had the biggest smile when it was over.”

The thrill and satisfaction Dolores experienced on the zip line was far surpassed by another family moment which occurred on April 18, 2008 when her first granddaughter, Lucia, was born. Dolores was at the hospital for the birth and then spent two weeks at her daughter Melissa’s home helping out with Lucia as Melissa recovered from the delivery. She was only able to enjoy the elation of being a grandmother for a short time before she began noticing shortness of breath and mild pain in her left chest

A decision between two leading surgical options

Upon the onset of her symptoms, Dolores had a chest x-ray taken followed by a CT scan. Results demonstrated a significant pleural-based mass in the left hemothorax. Her doctor suspected mesothelioma and had her undergo a CT-guided core biopsy which was performed on June 3, 2008. Pathology analysis of the tissues came back with a diagnosis of malignant pleural mesothelioma, epithelial cell type.

Dolores zipping throught the trees in Costa Rica
At her doctor’s direction, Dolores completed two rounds of Alimta/Cisplatin chemotherapy before considering surgical options instead. During the summer of 2008, Dolores consulted with California’s two leading thoracic surgeons, Dr. David Jablons at the University of California at San Francisco Medical Center and Dr. Robert Cameron at the University of California at Los Angeles Medical Center. After weighing both surgical options carefully, Dolores ultimately chose to undergo the pleurectomy/decortication surgery with Dr. Cameron at UCLA. Even though the tumor was wrapped tightly around her lung, “Dr. Cameron seemed positive that he could get it done,” according to Dolores. “He was very positive and took his time with me.” Dolores’s surgery was on September 11, 2008. After 13 hours of surgery and two weeks of hospitalization, she was finally released to go home and recover.

Post-surgical treatment and out-of-pocket care

After Dolores recovered from surgery, she completed 25 rounds of radiation therapy in December 2008 with radiation oncologist Dr. Michael Selch at UCLA. She also recently completed four rounds of Alimta / Cisplatin / Avastin chemotherapy in May 2009. Luckily she was able to tolerate this chemo cocktail much better and had fewer side-effects.

Dolores is currently undergoing cryoablation with Dr. Fereidoun Abtin of UCLA for her mesothelioma. Cryoablation uses a freezing technique to remove tissue from tumors. According to her doctors, it can be more effective at removing the pesky tumors that the chemo was unable to fight off. It’s a very time and detail intensive procedure. Dolores recently had one tumor treated and it took three hours. During her last treatment she received wonderful news that three of her tumors had since shrunk so she only had one tumor left to be treated! She will continue to be monitored on a monthly basis before her next treatement is decided upon.

Dolores and her family are paying out-of-pocket for cryoablation treatement. She and Dr. Abtin have tried appealing her health insurance company’s decision to not cover treatment four times already but they have not budged. She is very grateful to be able to pay for the latest treatment options through her settlements but definitely thinks insurance companies should not deny new, live-saving treatments especially for those who aren’t as fortunate as she. She is anxious for more studies being done in order to fast-track the latest treatments for insurance approval.Luebke Family - August 2007
Staying active—mind and body

Before her diagnosis, Dolores took full advantage of their proximity to the beach and loved going for daily walks. A native Californian, it wasn’t long until she turned Kurt, a born and bred Wisconsinite, into a self-professed “beach rat.” They met in 1975 and were married in 1977 in Big Sur. Dolores and Kurt have two children. Their daughter Melissa is 28 years old, married, and lives in nearby Yorba Linda, California with her husband and baby. Their son Eric is 26 years old, engaged, and lives up the beach from them in Huntington Beach, California.

Dolores and Kurt spend a lot of time with their children, but they have also been enjoying their “empty nest” status in recent years. Big Sur, located south of Carmel, has always been a special place for Dolores and Kurt. They fell in love there and were married there less than two years later. In recent years, they have traveled to Big Sur at least once a year. They love staying in an old turn of the century inn nestled in the hillside overlooking the ocean. They also enjoy going for hikes and driving up and down Pacific Coast Highway taking in the breathtaking scenery. Other frequent “get-away” destinations for Dolores and Kurt include San Diego and Palm Springs.

Although Dolores isn’t able to go out for her walks like she used to, she enjoys working part-time at the Vice-Principal’s office at the local high school. She loves the people she works with and it’s a great opportunity to just get out of the house and keep her mind busy. She can’t wait to begin again in the fall.

Grandma Dolores
Kurt and daughter Melissa will be attending MARF’S International Symposium in late June. Kurt has been going around the neighborhood getting signatures and garnering support for the various causes benefiting mesothelioma research, including health insurance approval of new treatments and ban asbestos legislation. Dolores is so proud her family is attending the symposium in her honor. She will be sitting this one out, resting up and restoring her energy for her Eric’s wedding in July.

Since being diagnosed with mesothelioma and learning of the bleak survival statistics, Dolores is admittedly scared, but is determined to do everything in her power to see Lucia reach her developmental milestones. She believes in the power of hope for the future, but knows the importance of appreciating every day.

*** POSTED JULY 6, 2009 ***

An Update from Melissa – August 22, 2009

My mom had a laser bronchoscopy surgery Tuesday, August 18th in the evening where they resected the tumor that was blocking her airway. She has the ability to use her left upper lobe of her lung. He told us that the lobe had been filled with mucous with pneumonia-like symptoms. Dr. Cameron will also be putting in a bronchial stent within two weeks to prevent any future closure of her air passageway. While in the operating room, they also put in an esophageal stent and dilated the area by the food pipe so that she will be able to swallow and eat again.

Dr. Cameron informed us that the tumor that was blocking her airway is progressive and will be hard to control due to its proximity to her aorta. He said it is acting differently than the majority of "meso tumors" in that it is really trying to get into other areas. He thought the area by the esophagus could have damage from radiation and that it didn't appear as though the tumor by the aorta was "in communication" with the esophagus area.

She is still on a ventilator as they are checking her diaphragm with some tests to make sure it is working well. Today they tried to have her breathe on her own by shutting it off and just having her be on a T-piece, P2, but her blood pressure and CO2 levels went up, so the surgical team decided to wait until tomorrow to try again.

We are still awaiting the results from the sonogram for the diaphragm check. One of the surgeons on the team said Dr. Cameron was concerned about the progression of the disease in that area because it had appeared in previous ultrasounds that her right side of the diaphragm wasn't showing much movement. Her left side is already "paralyzed" from the previous trauma from the pleurect/decort a year ago.


An Update from Melissa – August 29, 2009

Yesterday was a very tough day for my mom. Beginning Thursday night, her stomach had swollen up which they thought was just gas from the food she was receiving via GI tube. After a full night/early morning of tests, they discovered Friday morning that she had a trach/esophageal fistula which is a hole in between the two tubes. The hole led to complications, mainly because stomach substances were moving into the lungs and air ventilation was going into the stomach.

Dr. Cameron, was able to clear out the lungs and see the problem during a bronchoscopy exam. He informed us that there was a possibility of putting in another esophageal stent directly next to the first esoph. stent to cover up the hole. Fortunately, a GI surgeon was successful in the procedure and was able to put in the stent. She was on full ventilator support and sedated for most of the day. Since then, they have begun antibiotics to check for infection and have been slowly weaning her off full ventilator support. Her numbers are all great with no infection and she is feeling so much better today!

They have put a tube down her nose that will go to her intestine so that they can feed her with that way to take no chance that the food will go from her stomach into her lungs as they monitor the fistula. They can eventually take that tube out.

We are praying for her to be able to wean off the main ventilator and get stable and strong enough to feel comfortable to go home.


*** Dolores Luebke passed away on September 1, 2009 ***