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On The Fast Track For Meso Treatment

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Walter “Wally” Nielsen and his lovely wife, Arleen, sit surrounded by comfort and beauty – testaments to their hard work and creativity. A well-tended garden is a riot of spring color, but the leaden sky and cool drizzle portend another side of the Nielsens' seemingly idyllic life.

You wouldn’t know it from his easy going manner and natural smile, but Wally is battling an insidious cancer. This diagnosis of malignant mesothelioma came as a shock to Wally, a tall, fit, active, 74 year-old lifetime nonsmoker. A passionate golfer and skier, he thought the stabbing pain in his back was due to a torn muscle and chest pains from a bout with pneumonia. A chest X-ray and subsequent CT scan revealed a pleural effusion, and a PET/CT scan a week later confirmed the presence of something amiss and nefarious.

“From this point, we were on a “fast track”,” said Wally. By December of 2010, Wally had a biopsy which confirmed the mesothelioma diagnosis. He consulted with Dr. L. Stuart Nagasawa, an oncologist, who suggested that he consult with Dr. Robert Cameron, a surgical oncologist at UCLA Medical, about the feasibility of lung-sparing surgery.

“Dr. Nagasawa told me that I was very strong, my breathing test was off the chart, and that although not everyone can be a candidate for this surgery, he believed I could tolerate it and benefit from it,” Wally recalled with a sigh of relief.

On January 24, 2011, Dr. Cameron operated on Wally, removing all visible tumor surrounding the lung. Not surprisingly, Wally agreed to attack his mesothelioma aggressively. The words “I can’t” simply do not exist in his vocabulary. From his early days in South Beloit, Illinois, to a successful banking career in Southern California, Wally has charted a course that shunned the easy path for the more difficult but more rewarding high road.

In South Beloit, Wally spent his formative years working in the family business and developing a steadfast work ethic from an early age. The Nielsen family lived near a municipal airport and Wally became fascinated with flying, working hard to eventually obtain a private pilot’s license. When he was drafted for military service he continued his interest in airplanes by enrolling in the Navy’s aviation school. After completing his active duty, Wally went on to work with an engineering firm in construction.

In 1963, Wally seized another opportunity by marrying his wife, Arleen, and taking a job as a loan officer at Bank of America, permanently leaving the world of aviation and military. “I never thought I would work behind a desk,” added Wally with a shake of his head, but that “desk job” turned into a very successful and diverse career in banking, which he thoroughly enjoyed until his retirement in 1997.

Reflecting on their latest challenge, the Nielsens fully understand that cancer is a foe that doesn’t always respect strength, courage, compassion or the latest medical breakthroughs. Despite doing everything right, Wally laments that there “are days that it seems like it’s all just a bad dream and that I’ll wake up and it will be gone.”

The Nielsen’s are grateful for the excellent care they have received from the UCLA Medical Center – “A fantastic hospital with an incredible staff and wonderful facilities for accompanying family members.” More importantly, the Nielsen’s are committed to a full road to recovery for Wally and a return to the goals, passions, and interests that have defined his life.

April 12, 2011