The mesothelioma diagnosis was a surprise to Raya Bodnarchuk of Baltimore, Maryland because she had never worked in a factory, mine, the military, or a shipyard. These are the typical locations where the disease develops. According to a recent article in the Baltimore Post-Examiner, mesothelioma may take between twenty to forty years before symptoms are evident.
About Raya’s Journey Since 2012
Raya had been an art instructor and after retirement had devoted much of her time to her sculptures. But even after a bout with pneumonia had subsided, Raya continued to have fluid in her lungs (pleural effusions).
The doctors who were treating Raya referred her to John Hopkins. It was there that Raya learned that she had mesothelioma. This disease is known to affect people who have worked with asbestos in the construction and manufacturing industries and had inhaled asbestos. Raya was obviously stunned after receiving the diagnosis.
However, after working with paints and other materials for so many years, it is possible that some of the art supplies contained asbestos fibers and caused Raya’s disease.
After the diagnosis and as her symptoms gradually worsened, Raya started adjusting her life to her weakened condition. She was no longer able to handle her massive chain saw and giant sculptures so she began to design much smaller objects.
Clinical Trials May Account for Raya’s Survival
Raya feels that she is very fortunate to live in Maryland and be able to participate in the Johns Hopkins mesothelioma clinical trials. This is not always possible for patients living in other states. She firmly believes that being involved with the trials has controlled her disease.
About Raya’s Treatment
Raya is grateful that she was able to avoid surgery for the cancer in the lining of her lungs. Instead her treatment began with three cycles of chemotherapy given six times per cycle. The drugs were successful in shrinking the tumors.
Raya’s condition remained in remission until 2017 when she again had the pleural effusions. She is now on an investigational drug and will be checking with her doctors to see if the disease is again under control.
Raya credits the clinical trials as having saved her life. She believes that the trials contribute to knowledge that will be used as a basis for a cure.
Malignant Mesothelioma, A Rare Disease
Mesothelioma, affects about three thousand people and has a mortality rate of about two years if left untreated. Yet doctors can point to some people with mesothelioma who have lived with the disease for over twenty years. The doctors stress that it would be difficult to analyze what works and what does not work without people like Raya taking part in the clinical trials. They admit that they still do not know how the disease differs from other cancers.
Mesothelioma is found in the tissue surrounding the pleura (lungs). As it may also occur in the abdomen or the chest wall, the symptoms will correspond to areas affected by the disease such as abdominal pain, chest pain or coughing.
There seems to be a lot of evidence that the disease is caused by years of asbestos exposure. To date, the only cure is early diagnosis and, if possible, surgical removal of the cancer. Chemotherapy and radiation may be the treatment of choice if surgery is not recommended.
The dangers of asbestos first became evident in the early seventies. Asbestos workers were not only the ones that were exposed. The workers carried fibers home on their skin and work clothes and some members of their families contracted mesothelioma as well.
Most of the exposure to asbestos has been in naval installations and the military. Even though it was outlawed in the 1970s, asbestos still lurks in hospitals, schools and in many homes in the U.S. that were constructed prior to 1975. Its use remains at about one percent in the U.S. but it is banned in about sixty countries worldwide.
It must be noted that the removal of asbestos is dangerous. When the asbestos is disturbed it causes fibers to become airborne and be inhaled. Only qualified individuals should be in charge of its removal.