Mesothelioma is a type of cancer that is, in most cases, thought to be caused by exposure to asbestos, usually in the workplace. The most common type of this cancer is pleural mesothelioma, which affects a layer of tissue that surrounds the lungs and quickly spreads from there to other organs. This is the type of cancer that Katherine Keys was diagnosed with at the age of 49. Although she was not given long to live, she fought back, opted for the most aggressive treatment plan, and survived to tell her story.
From Symptoms to Diagnosis
Katherine’s story begins with symptoms that didn’t seem all that unusual. Mesothelioma is rare, but the symptoms it causes are not unique. They mimic those of much more common and treatable illnesses. Katherine had a cough and some difficulty breathing, as well as a general sense of feeling unwell. She thought she had the flu, or maybe pneumonia. She never imagined that the symptoms would get drastically worse, landing her in the hospital with a diagnosis of pleural mesothelioma.
Stage I Mesothelioma and Prognosis
Because the symptoms mimic other illnesses, because it is rare, and because it often takes decades to develop, mesothelioma is difficult to diagnose. For this reason many people are diagnosed with later stages, when the cancer is already spreading through the chest cavity and even to other organs in distant parts of the body.
Katherine was lucky in the sense that she got her diagnosis during stage I, the stage of the disease before it has spread very far. Even so, her doctors told her that her prognosis was just two years and that treatment was unlikely to eradicate all the cancer and achieve remission.
Aggressive Treatment for an Aggressive Cancer
Katherine was not willing to give up hope just yet, in spite of the difficult prognosis she had been given. Thanks to her relatively young age and good health, her doctors told her she was eligible for a very tricky surgery, called extrapleural pneumonectomy. The surgery is extensive and involves removing a lot of tissue from the chest cavity, including an entire lung. This aggressive approach is often the best chance a mesothelioma patient has of achieving remission.
There was a long recovery period after the surgery, and Katherine would never be able to return to her former level of activity or health because of losing one whole lung. However, the surgery was a success, and following radiation therapy to eliminate any remaining cancer cells, Katherine was on the mend. She was rechecked for cancer every few months, then six months, and then a year, and finally was declared to be in remission. She and her doctors had achieved a rare victory over this difficult cancer.
Sharing Her Story
Now, Katherine is ten years cancer-free and happy to be alive, loving life and spending time with loved ones. She credits her doctors and the surgeon who performed the procedure with her recovery from cancer, but also her own positive attitude and refusal to give up hope. Today she tells her story to as many people as will listen, to help inspire hope and a fight for survival in all mesothelioma and cancer patients.