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Mesothelioma Tugs, But Does Not Unravel

Donna Walmach, widow of Richard Walmach, grapples with the challenge of expressing how well loved Richard was by her and the children. Merely talking about it does not do justice to the constant ache in their heart left behind after Richard passed. Richard died in his bed surrounded by his family, all holding hands on June 11, 2006. Richard's family never left his side throughout his battle with mesothelioma.

Richard and Donna Walmach were a true American couple. They were hardworking, thrifty and above all honest. They lived in a house they built in 1975 located on approximately six acres in a watershed in Bremerton, Washington. The family took numerous trips together every year, and spent their one "big" vacation sleeping together in tents.

Before his mesothelioma, Richard was able to walk up to six miles to visit friends atop a hill in his neighborhood. He enjoyed working in his yard and completing various projects around the house. Richard also had a passion for sailing and he enjoyed frequent sailing trips. He even participated in a thirteen-day sailboat race from Canada to Hawaii! Their lives were rich with family and friends.

Donna still misses the little things about Richard. After his retirement from working as a Marine machinist at the Puget Shipyard, Richard started cooking gourmet meals for Donna. She looked forward to savoring a home-cooked after a long day together with the comfort of Richard's presence.

Donna has since returned to her job as a caregiver for the elderly and handicapped. Her job keeps her busy and gives her satisfaction in caring for the people who need it most. The Walmach children have also gradually gone on with their lives after grieving over their loss. Their family does weekly check-ins and gets together often to stay connected.

Family Support after Diagnosis

Richard's surgical scars. August, 2006

Family Help During Consultations, Surgery, and Recovery

During his extra-pleural pneumonectomy surgery and recovery, Richard's family stayed with Richard in shifts at the hospital, never leaving him alone. Before his surgery, at least one family member would always accompany Richard to his appointments with Dr. Vallieres. The family's commitment made quite an impression. Dr. Vallieres got to know Richard's family including his then pregnant daughter Jennifer. Dr. Vallieres would affectionately pat her stomach and ask about her condition. The day finally came when Dr. Vallieres saw the baby accompany Jennifer when she came with Richard for one of his appointments.

Richard seemed to recover well after his surgery in June, 2005. He stayed active and planned to attend antique car shows, until his health took a downturn in March, 2006. After exploratory surgery and chemotherapy, the family decided to focus on pain management rather than additional treatment.

Home Care by his Family

Richard received care from his family at home. Richard's family remained vigilant in their constant efforts to keep him as comfortable as possible. Jennifer read him antique car stories to help pass the time and to take his mind off the pain. The children would play their father's favorite music in order to divert his attention from the progression of the disease. Donna and the children would take turns leading the others in camping songs from their past trips and from Richard's Boy Scout days. They took turns by his bedside, attending to his physical needs and to his need for having his loved ones nearby.

Hospice and friends at home

Dr. Eric Vallieres and Richard

During the last three months, the family could no longer handle the enormity of the home care, even with the three children, in-laws, and Donna. Hospice care began. The family was happy to see Richard's co-workers, church members, and boating club friends who came by to visit, yet these visits were exceptionally hard because they reminded the family on a daily basis that the disease's progress was inexorable. Richard's extraordinary will to live continually gave them hope-at one point he managed to roll over in bed despite not having eaten in days and despite being terribly weak. The hope, however, invariably turned to anxiety and fear at losing their father and husband.

Richard lived about a year after his surgery but within that year he got to see two new grandchildren. Donna sees this as a wonderful "blessing" for any grandfather. For the Walmach family, mesothelioma may have claimed the life of their beloved husband and father but it has helped them realize their strength and unity in helping each other overcome difficult times.

*** POSTED MARCH 26, 2007 ***

Mr. Richard Walmach passed away on June 11, 2006