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Success Makes Its Own Luck

Martha Munoz is a 71 year-old retired social worker who lives with her husband Art in Orange County, California. Martha and Art have five children and eight grandchildren.

Martha and Art have been married since 1965. They had been enjoying an active and fulfilling retirement. They enjoyed taking walks together, going dancing and playing cards with their many friends and family who live near their home in Santa Margarita, California.

Martha had enjoyed good health throughout her life. A lifetime non-smoker, she began experiencing chest pain and shortness of breath in late February of 2009. She initially presented to her internal medicine physician who ordered chest x-rays, which turned out to be suspicious for lung cancer. The films also revealed a right-sided pleural effusion.

Early Tests Suspicious

Her doctor then referred Martha to a pulmonologist located in San Juan Capistrano, California. Over the next several weeks, Martha underwent multiple thoracenteses where the fluid was removed from the chest cavity. Tests performed on the removed fluid at the time did not show any indication of a malignancy.

Unfortunately, her doctors could not determine the cause of the fluid buildup but, to be safe, recommended she undergo a tissue biopsy. On March 27, Martha underwent a VATS thoracoscopy, talc pleurodesis, and pleural biopsy. During the procedures, the doctors found severe adhesions located throughout the lung and chest wall.

Once the tissue was removed, it was examined by pathologists who diagnosed Martha with malignant pleural mesothelioma. After discussing the diagnosis with her, Martha was referred to an oncologist who, before starting her on chemotherapy, recommended that she go to the UCLA Medical School for a second opinion. He recommended that she consult with Dr. Robert Cameron.

After reviewing her medical records, Dr. Cameron ordered additional radiologic tests for staging purposes and to better determine a proper treatment plan.

Good News: Tumor localized

One of the tests was an MRI, which showed that the tumor was limited to the right pleural space. This meant the mesothelioma was “localized”. It had not spread throughout the chest cavity. Dr. Cameron discussed the available treatment options (granted, not very many) with Martha and informed her that she was a good candidate for lung-sparing pleurectomy/decortication surgery.

On May 28, 2009, Martha had the surgery. Eight days after the surgery she was discharged from the hospital. When she fully recovered from the trauma of her surgery, she began radiation therapy on July 30. She completed a total of 25 radiation treatments on September 3, 2009.

On October 23, 2009 Martha returned to see Dr. Cameron. After examining her, Dr. Cameron was pleased with her progress. Her performance status had improved –her shortness of breath at rest had improved, she had not lost considerable weight, her appetite was improving, and her chest pain was at least manageable.

Martha and Arturo are spending the entire 2011 holiday season, from Thanksgiving until New Years, with their family in the Great Lakes region of Michigan. Three out of their five children live in Michigan. According to Martha, “When you have an illness like this, you need to take every opportunity you have to spend time with your kids.”

The Kitchen Sink: Surgery, Radiation, Interferon, Cryoablation

Like most mesothelioma patients, Martha has experienced many ups and downs over the years. Since being diagnosed in 2009, she has undergone surgery with Dr. Cameron, completed post-surgical radiation therapy followed by interferon injections which was followed by three cryoablation treatments. Martha feels very fortunate to have found Dr. Cameron, who is perhaps the only mesothelioma doctor in the world to offer lung sparing surgery followed by cryoablation and interferon.

Most recently over the summer, she completed had six rounds of Alimta Cisplatin chemotherapy to cope with a slight recurrence. She continues to feel discomfort at the surgical incision site due to excess scar tissue but she’s thankful for her healthy appetite and the good affect her vitamins have on her sense of well-being.

Although she misses her family in Michigan, she does not miss the winters, She loves California, especially since it means she is just a short drive away from UCLA Medical Center.

“I love my family, which brings me joy and happiness, but right now I also need to be close to Dr. Cameron, who seems to know what I need and delivers it with just the right touch, “ she said.

Success Makes its own Luck

Martha is a very vocal and vigilant patient and stays on top of all her appointments and new treatment options. “So much research is being done in California on life-extending treatments and I need to be around for that. I know I’ve personally benefitted from Dr. Cameron’s ‘experimental” work and I want to help others get the same benefits.”

She’ll be having all her scans done before she sees Dr. Cameron in January of 2012. She’s currently not on any treatments and is anxious to learn about the next step in her mesothelioma management.

Posted on January 5, 2012