Slowing down doesn’t help Angela W. feel any better. Speeding up does.
Angela, who was first diagnosed with malignant pleural mesothelioma just after Mother’s Day last spring, returned to work four months ago, thankful that the grueling chemotherapy had ended, and the latest clinical trial had begun.
Angela, 44, is the chief operating officer for a small workforce development company near Lansing, Mich. She is preparing to expand her workload again from the typical 40 hours a week to 50 hours and beyond.
“It’s grant-writing time, a busy time, an important time for us,” said Angela, whose last name is being withheld over privacy concerns. “We’re a small company, so everyone has multiple duties, and everyone has to turn it up a notch. Me included.”
Angela has been an atypical mesothelioma patient, hoping she continues that way with a cancer that has no cure and a poor prognosis.
She is considerably younger than most people who have this disease. As a female, she’s also in the minority, too. And she is neither a military veteran, nor former construction worker.
After she was diagnosed with mesothelioma, she failed to qualify for surgery because of the way the cancer had spread.
“When I first heard the diagnosis, my first thought was like a lot of cancer patients, `Let’s cut it out, let’s do the surgery right away,’ ” she told Asbestos.com. “Then I learned that wasn’t possible. They said the risk of having a lung removed was just not worth the reward. That was the toughest thing I heard.”
So she kept making plans.
She has high school graduation in June for the second of her three children. There is a family camping trip to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula (August), the National Women’s Conference in Indianapolis (September), and the Church Conference in Nashville (October).
And there is making sure those always-tricky grant proposals get done correctly to keep the business thriving.
“I really don’t have time to be sick right now,” she said only half-jokingly. “There is too much in my life to do. I’m not happy when I’m stuck in the house with TV and radio. I’m making plans to do what I always do to the best of my ability, until I can’t do those things anymore.”
Angela makes the 90-minute drive to the University of Michigan Cancer Center for a CAT scan, lab tests and a check-up every three weeks, taking her daily Cediranib, which is part of a mesothelioma clinical trial.
Most everything else has returned to normal in her usually-hectic life. She is active at church again, captain of the Relay for Life team. She is taking a Zumba class, joining the Latin-inspired dance-fitness craze. She has heard all the grim history concerning pleural mesothelioma, but opted to block out most of it.
“I think sometimes, people know too much. I don’t need to hear more bad news,” she said. “I don’t feel sorry for myself. It’s a trial in my life that isn’t much different than trials other people walk. My faith plays a huge part in this. I have a tremendous family and a wonderful church supporting me.”
Keeping a positive attitude has been a priority for Angela, firmly believing it is critical to her therapy, understanding that her own immune system works best when stress is kept to a minimum. There is a history of cancer in his family, and a history of fighting it.
She was 16 when her mother was diagnosed with Lymphoma. Her mother is living today, offering support that only a mother can. Her husband Matt and children are there, too.
There is an amazing common ground in her office, where four of 12 workers are cancer survivors. Her boss once worked with the American Cancer Society. Together, they engage one another with stories.
Just before her last visit to the UM Cancer Center, Angela had her hair done, and she loved the new style. So when the physician’s assistant came into the waiting room and told her, “It looks great,” she smiled, and thanked her for the compliment on her new look.
Turns out, the assistant was referring to the latest CAT scan. The tumor in her chest had shrunk. They laughed about the misunderstanding.
“Like with any cancer patient, there are days when you aren’t on top of the world, but the point is not to stay there, to keep moving forward,” she said. “You can’t sit around and wait for something to happen. You can’t dwell on that.”
Angela isn’t sure how she got mesothelioma, which is caused by an exposure to asbestos. It could have been the summer job while she was in college, working for a chemical company.
It could have been the ceiling tiles in her college dorm room, where she had an upper bunk on year. Her father had worked at the same chemical company for 30 years.
“At this point, that’s really not material to us,” she said. “I’m getting the best treatment that’s out there. And I believe that everything that enters a person’s life, there is a reason for it. Whatever God has in mind. My age, and general health is pretty good. And the drug I’m taking seems to be working.”
Angela doesn’t spend much time worrying about her future. She is more concerned with how this has affected her family.
“It’s a little tough for them, but at the same time, I’m proud and humbled by their reaction. They’ve done their homework,” she said. “For now, we’re looking day to day, just to keep going, and keep doing.”