WASHINGTON D.C. — Natasha Ana of Slovenia traveled a long way to be at the Mesothelioma Foundation Symposium this week. It was well worth the trip.
Ana will return home with something she didn’t have before.
“I’ve got hope now,” said Ana, whose husband was diagnosed with pleural mesothelioma eight months ago. “I’ll go home feeling a lot better about everything. I’m so glad I came.”
The ninth annual symposium, hosted by the Mesothelioma Applied Research Foundation (MARF), concluded Friday with a series of lectures and interaction between medical professionals, patients and families.
Ana’s presence was unusual in many ways. Both she and her husband Gorazd are research scientists at the University of Ljubjana in the tiny European country. Both also are just 36 years old.
He stayed at home, focusing on his health and preparing for his next chemotherapy treatment, uneasy about what he would see and hear at the symposium for mesothelioma.
“My only regret is that he didn’t travel with me. I’m sad he’s not here,” she said. “He was thinking it would only be about grim facts and kind of depressing. But what I found was just the opposite. The sense of community, the sense of hope, really struck me.”
Long Trip to Find Mesothelioma Facts
Mesothelioma is the rare cancer caused by asbestos exposure. The diagnosis usually comes with a grim prognosis because there is no cure. It usually, though, hits older people.
Ana, a Ph.D, came on a fact-finding mission. She and Gorazd are co-workers and faculty in the University’s Bio-Medical Department. Both already were well-versed and well read about what he is facing. She had worked on a university grant proposal for a few years on mesothelioma, something she never though would effect her.
“I heard about this symposium, and everyone who was going to be here, I wanted to hear from them,” she said. “It’s not like he’s facing an appendectomy. He’s facing a surgery where you want to have the best chance of succeeding.”
Ana spoke with several of the high-profile doctors in attendance, including renowned surgeon David Sugarbaker, M.D., whose work in mesothelioma at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston is unmatched in the world.
Although Sugarbaker was encouraging, offering to look at his records and offering her advice, there is the issue of Ana’s university health insurance not covering him in this country.
Ironically, Sugarbaker on Thursday night received MARF’s prestigious Pioneer Award, given annually to a medical professional who most advances the cause of mesothelioma research and treatment. He received a standing ovation both before and after delivering an inspiring talk that really hit home with Ana.
Hope Is Key Ingredient
“Hope is such a key ingredient in what we do. When you drop ‘hope’ into the equation, anything is possible,” Sugarbaker said. “It’s such a powerful entity. And it’s everyone’s right, to have hope.”
Ana wasn’t the only international visitor at the symposium. Others hailed from Australia, Canada and South America. There were more than 30 mesothelioma survivors who attended.
Ana and Gorazd will face some critical decisions in the coming weeks. He was diagnosed after thinking he had a persistent bronchial problem. It took almost a month of X-rays, CT scans and three different biopsies to receive the stunning diagnosis.
A young couple that believed they were just starting their life together was floored by the news. He had no known exposure to asbestos. Now he is facing the prospect of a very radical surgery in hopes of prolonging his life.
“I’ll take everything home with me, and we’ll start making decisions,” she said. “I just wish he could have been here. I’ll help him, but needed to hear this. Hope and love are the strongest forces in the world. And they were both here.”