An Unexpected Diagnosis

Although Ward spent 43 years as a registered nurse, she never met anyone with malignant mesothelioma cancer. It was a disease she had heard of over the years but didn’t know much about.

As Ward got older, she considered the possibility of developing cancer, but couldn’t imagine she would be one of the roughly 3,000 mesothelioma cases diagnosed in 2012.

Emily ward holding a dog

She never worked the blue-collar jobs typically associated with this cancer. Asbestos exposure from a renovation of the hospital Ward worked at in the 1970s led to her mesothelioma decades later.

After her diagnosis, Ward didn’t ask, “Why me?” She realized there was nothing she could have done to change things. Instead, she started asking questions about treatment and how to fight back.

From One Nurse to Another

Shortly after her diagnosis, Ward discovered The Mesothelioma Center at As a nurse she found the website easy to understand and felt the site comfortably guided her through valuable mesothelioma information.

Ward connected with Karen Selby, a registered nurse at The Mesothelioma Center, who gave her information about treatment options in Boston and mesothelioma expert Dr. David Sugarbaker.

Her interactions with Selby resonated with Ward. She kept reconnecting with her because it was comfortable as a nurse to talk to another nurse about her mesothelioma diagnosis. They kept in touch over the years, and Selby inspired Ward to help fellow mesothelioma survivors overcome the challenges of their diagnosis. Becoming an Advocate

Ward began blogging about her experiences with mesothelioma for The Mesothelioma Center at in November 2018. While challenging at times, she felt it was important to share her journey to connect and hopefully inspire other mesothelioma survivors.

Ward understood that living with mesothelioma wasn’t easy. Whether dealing with side effects of treatment, driving two hours to Boston for immunotherapy infusions, or learning how best to communicate with friends and family about her cancer, every week living with this disease presented a challenge.

Her best advice: Advocate for yourself, make decisions based on your quality of life and do what makes you happy.

Advocating for Awareness

The next step in Ward’s advocacy efforts was raising awareness about this rare cancer. She knew more research was needed to find a cure. She also knew it was imperative that people at high risk for mesothelioma speak up and share their history of asbestos exposure so they can get diagnosed earlier when treatment is more effective.

Living in rural Maine, Ward knew firsthand that most doctors had never treated a mesothelioma patient. They didn’t see the warning signs or know how to look for them, which led to many misdiagnoses. By increasing awareness, Ward helped change that.

Sharing Emily’s Story

More media coverage is needed to continue the discourse about mesothelioma and the dangers of asbestos exposure.

Ward belonged to a group of cancer patients who live with a grim prognosis. She knew every new study provided more encouragement for a cure, novel mesothelioma treatment option approvals and inspiring survivor stories.

Connecting with The Mesothelioma Center allowed Ward to share her story with others and shine some light on a dark disease. She was eager to share her experiences with anyone willing to listen, and her life continues to inspire and provide hope.

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Read More About Emily’s Journey

Emily Ward, mesothelioma survivor and expert contributor
Photos by Jamie Gleason Photography

When Emily wrote about her experiences, she hoped to inspire other survivors of mesothelioma who could relate to the physical and mental hardships of this cancer. She emphasized the importance of spending time with family, tending to her garden and doing whatever else made her happy. She made the most of her time and celebrated every day as if it were a holiday.

Emily’s Blogs

  • February 1949
    Born in Portland, Maine
  • 1969
    Started career as a registered nurse.
  • 1972
    Married Stan Ward
  • 1970s
    Exposed to asbestos during a renovation at the Osteopathic Hospital of Maine.
  • 1995
    Stan died from complications of diabetes.
  • August 2012
    Diagnosed with pleural mesothelioma
  • October 2012
    Underwent six-hour pleurectomy and decortication procedure done by Dr. David Sugarbaker.
  • August 2014
    First recurrence.
  • April 2016
    Began chemotherapy at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute under Dr. David Jackman.
  • May 2017
    CT scans showed no visible evidence of disease.
  • January 2019
    Second recurrence. Tumors returned near one area of my heart. Two additional spots showed on a CT scan.
  • April 2019
    Began taking the immunotherapy drug Keytruda.
  • October 2020
    Switched to Opdivo and Yervoy immunotherapy
  • November 2021
    Discontinued mesothelioma treatment
  • May 2022
    Died at home in Cornish, Maine

Working with the Best

Ward’s research on mesothelioma led her to Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, where she met mesothelioma expert Dr. David Sugarbaker.

She credited Sugarbaker’s pleurectomy and decortication surgery for saving her life. Sugarbaker died six years after that procedure, and Ward expressed the utmost gratitude to him for giving her years of life most mesothelioma patients aren’t promised.

Through Brigham, Ward connected with her medical oncologist, Dr. David Jackman, at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. He worked with her to find a treatment regimen that best fit her needs. After three rounds of chemotherapy, she started the immunotherapy drug Keytruda in April 2019 and later switched to Opdivo and Yervoy in 2020 before discontinuing treatment.

Ward’s experience with Sugarbaker and Jackman taught her the importance of working with doctors who specialize in treating this rare cancer.

To me, if you want top-notch care, you go where the research is being done.
Emily Ward
Mesothelioma Survivor

Continue to Fight: A Message for Survivors

According to Ward, being diagnosed with mesothelioma completely changed her perspective on life. No longer did she worry about the hubbub surrounding holidays. Instead, she treated every day as if it were a holiday.

Ward encouraged every mesothelioma patient to do what made them happy. She believed in cherishing moments spent with family and friends and not getting lost in the details.

“Learn to say no to things you don’t want to do,” said Ward. “Don’t be afraid to ask questions or ask for help. And don’t worry about questioning your doctor or seeking a second opinion.

“It’s your health. It’s your life,” she added. “Make the best decisions for you, and deal with your cancer one scan at a time.”

  • Stay Connected
    Learn more about Emily’s journey and other survivor stories in The Mesothelioma Center’s monthly email.
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