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Nothing Can Keep Him From Traveling The Globe


Jan and Erwin Bergquist are world travelers. Even though Erwin was diagnosed with mesothelioma, he doesn't hesitate to packs his bags ready to embark on an Asian cruise.

In October of 2005, Erwin exhibited the classic preliminary symptoms of malignant mesothelioma including a shorness of breath and some chest pain. He had to catch his breath when climbing stairs. This is unusual for Erwin since he's been fit since his service in the Navy as a young man.

Weeks passed before Erwin decided to see his primary doctor and like many other mesothelioma patients. When he did, chest films were taken which after reviewing them his doctor diagnosed pneumonia. By December 2005, Erwin was still exhibiting "pneumonia-like" symptoms so Dr. Thomas Brugman, a pulmonologist in Ventura, California, ordered a PET/CT scan to better evaluate Erwin's symptoms. Dr. Brugman found accumulated fluid in Erwin's chest which he subsequently drained in a process called a thoracentesis.

Dr. Brugman was concerned about the cause of the fluid and urged Jan and Erwin to cancel their trip to South America in January 2006 to consult with Dr. James Woodburn, a general surgeon also in Ventura. Soon after meeting with the Bergquists, Dr. Woodburn performed a lung biopsy. Examination of the removed tissue revealed a fibrous tumor growth.

The doctor visits were just beginning. On March 13, 2006, Erwin consulted with Dr. Lamar Bushnell, a cardiothoracic surgeon in Ventura, who took one more biopsy that finally revealed the source of Erwin's breathing difficulties and fluid accumulation. Jan and Erwin were shocked to hear that he had malignant pleural mesothelioma. While they were unsure about what to do exactly, Jan and Erwin did understand that they needed to seek treatment quickly.

Dr. Bushnell referred Erwin to oncologist Dr. Esmond Chan, a clinical oncologist at Coastal Radiation Oncology Medical Group in Ventura, for chemotherapy using Alimta and Cisplatin. Dr. Bushnell suggested that after chemotherapy ended, Erwin should see Dr. Robert Cameron, Director of the Mesothelioma Program at UCLA School of Medicine, for surgical resection.

After only one round of chemotherapy, Erwin decided to get a second opinion from Dr. Robert Cameron before any more time passed. In May 2006, Dr. Cameron explained that many mesothelioma patients have the opportunity to undergo surgical resection of their tumor before undergoing chemotherapy. Dr. Cameron explained the type of surgery he would perform for Erwin, a procedure known as a pleurectomy with decortication (P/D). In this treatment, Dr. Cameron removes the pleura, which is the lining around the lung where the tumor is usually located. On average, this surgery lasts between six to eight hours because Dr. Cameron removes the pleura and any affected areas by hand.

Later in May, Jan and Erwin also decided to consult with a surgeon at USC Norris where they offered to do a less abrasive treatment. While weighing all their options, Erwin decided to undergo one more round of chemotherapy. Ultimately, he decided on surgery with Dr. Cameron which was done on June 13, 2006.

Erwin recuperated in the hospital for the next eight days. He felt weak initially but a few days of "stairway treatment" quickly got him out of the hospital and back to his normal routine.

Two months after surgery in August 2006, Jan and Erwin traveled to Germany, Normandy, and France for three weeks with their grandson. Erwin went along with the group which included taking a barge trip and attending a concert that required him to climb 200 stairs. Though it was difficult he climbed the stairs slowly and made it to the top.

When they returned, Erwin began radiation with Dr. Robert Lum in September 2006. Midway through his daily radiation treatment, Erwin took a few days off for a reunion with his old Navy buddies. After the reunion he resumed his treatment.

In February of 2007, Erwin began immunotherapy treatment using interferon alpha. He has felt "pretty good" since February but continues to see Dr. Cameron for follow ups every three months.

Mesothelioma, surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, none of this has kept the Bergquists from doing what they love-travel. At the end of May 2007, Jan and Erwin joined friends on a cruise to Asia, China, and Japan. In September 2007, after visiting family in Seattle, Washington, they took another vacation to Italy touring Rome and Tuscany. This is the first vacation Jan and Erwin have taken by themselves in decades.

*** POSTED ON NOVEMBER 15, 2007 ***

An Update - 5/4/2009

Erwin just finished a month long intense radiation therapy. He underwent two treatments a day for five days a week. He said, " this set of radiation treatments left me exhausted, unlike the treatments I had a few years ago". Shortly after the treatments, Erwin had a fall at home, but says his daughter has been there for him around the clock. "It could be worse", he stated, "so many other people with Mesothelioma don't live as long as I have".

Erwin's beautiful wife Janelle passed away in January of this year. Erwin said it has been difficult few months since her passing.

Three years have passed since his surgery with Dr. Robert Cameron. He just had an check-up with Dr. Cameron and really appreciates all he has done for him. Erwin hopes there are no more radiation treatments in his future.

*** Mr. Erwin Bergquist passed away on August 27, 2009 ***