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Every Crisis Presents An Opportunity

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It’s a beautiful day in San Clemente. The kind of day that might usually be spent fishing with the grandkids off his boat in Dana Point Harbor, but for retired Judge Jacob Jager, those boating days are on hold as he finishes his post-operative radiation treatments. While the Judge enjoys the view surrounded by his gracious family, wife Norma, daughter Tammy, and grandsons Ashton and Hunter, he continues to wage a determined battle against malignant pleural mesothelioma. Although his radiation treatments have taken 35 pounds off his athletic frame, Judge Jager still commands the room and positively lights up for his delightful grandsons.

Judge Jager continued to lead an active and fulfilling lifestyle, but in April of 2010, the Judge began to experience trouble breathing and sought medical help. In August, severe chest pains finally lead to a battery of tests revealing a right-sided pleural effusion with an underlying right lung consolidation. A mass was also noted. In October, a tissue biopsy and thoracentesis confirmed malignant mesothelioma.

That diagnosis began a family commitment, spearheaded by daughter Tammy, to find the best possible care and treatment available. Like her father, Tammy possesses the intellect and tenacity to not only educate herself on this type of cancer, but to explore all possible treatments throughout the United States. Both father and daughter are native Californians, and their love for the West Coast escalated even more when they learned that most East Coast mesothelioma surgeons promoted a radical surgery in which the entire lung among other vital body parts were amputated.

It was Judge Jager’s originating oncologist, Dr. Lloyd Nagasawa, who first mentioned thoracic surgeon, Dr. Robert Cameron of UCLA Medical School. Since 1994, Dr. Cameron has been a pioneer of the “pleurectomy and decortication (P/D) procedure,” the goal of which is to remove all visible tumor and spare the underlying lung. He has performed over 300 of these “rational” operations.

With her usual diligence, Tammy researched both the procedure and Dr. Cameron. The family warmed to the idea that Dr. Cameron’s procedure was designed to spare the lung, since Judge Jager’s lung was functioning normally. They learned that, while the procedure is much less "radical" for the patient, it is a more lengthy and difficult procedure for the surgeon. They believed that Dr. Cameron's commitment to this procedure, which is designed to afford patients a much better quality of life with use of both lungs, speaks volumes about Dr. Cameron's dedication to his patients.

But most of all, they appreciated Dr. Cameron’s medical philosophy. As Tammy put it, “Dr. Cameron treats mesothelioma as a chronic disease – something that can be treated and managed with the ultimate goal of prolonging and increasing the quality of life. A ‘cure’ sounds great, but unfortunately from what I know about meso it’s unrealistic at this stage.”

When they met with Dr. Cameron, Tammy was positive that they had made the right choice. She recalled that Dr. Cameron very patiently and candidly set out the nuts and bolts of his procedure without sugar-coating it. The Judge and Tammy felt reassured. “We had great confidence in him from the beginning-- truly a brilliant man,” gushed Judge Jager.

In November, Dr. Cameron operated on the Judge. Like any major surgery, recovery was not without its hiccups. But through it all, the family’s will remained strong. The experience, instead of a dark and foreboding cloud that brought everyone down, showed that with the right blend of medical expertise, a solid strategy, perseverance and abiding hope, a medical crisis can also help bind the family ties even tighter.

San Clemente, CA
3/10/2011