Paul F. spent much of his life as a social worker, aiding those with disabilities, finding jobs for people with a handicap, teaching both children and adults, and always lending a hand to the less fortunate.
Even in school, he was an unselfish giver, befriending those without friends, supporting the underdog, caring more about others than he cared about himself. He was there to serve.
And malignant pleural mesothelioma will not change him. A year after being diagnosed with this rare and aggressive cancer, Paul remains the same reflective, happy-go-lucky, kindhearted soul, a calming voice to family and friends.
“I may not be alive much longer, but I don’t fear dying. I really don’t live in fear. I’m not worried about what comes next,” he told Asbestos.com from his home near Albuquerque, N.M. “When you’re facing death, it’s an interesting place to be.” His last name is being withheld over privacy concerns.
There is no bitterness in his voice, no touch of regret, no feeling that someone dealt him an unfair hand. He will be thankful for the time he survives, making the most of each day that he has.
Paul, 62, is a little younger than most who are diagnosed with this terrible disease, but he is facing the same long odds of surviving. His cancer already has metastasized, which ended any chance of potentially curative surgery.
A chemotherapy regimen didn’t work, either, only making him sicker than he’s ever been, causing his liver to malfunction, and prompting him to reject much of the traditional treatment advice.
Instead, he has turned to his faith in God, his belief in miracles, and the power of positive thinking, hoping his own immune system might keep him going.
“I didn’t have a real good experience with hospitals and doctors, but I wouldn’t want to discourage anyone else from going that route,” he said. “I’m enjoying life right now, living like nothing is wrong. One of my prayers is that I’m letting God know that I’m OK with this. I don’t live with gloom and doom. He has a good plan for me.”
His last scan a few weeks ago showed very little new tumor growth, which was encouraging. He currently has no fluid around his lungs, and his breathing has returned to normal. He has explored the possibility of an upcoming mesothelioma clinical trial in Houston, but mostly with the hope it can help others who follow him.
“This is almost a blessing for me because I have time to take care of responsibilities, to do the things that need to be done,” he said. “It’s harder for everyone else around me. It can trigger a lot of anxiety for some. Me personally, I’m fine. I don’t know how long I’ll live, but there are no guarantees for any of us.”
Paul is determined to keep living his life for those all around him. He wants to revisit some of those people he helped in his career as a social worker, where he made many lifelong friends. Mostly, he is making plans for the future.
There is a Scottish Festival in Colorado he still wants to see and a vacation to Arizona he wants to take. He has a brother in San Diego and a sister in Philadelphia he expects to visit this summer.
“I’ve been lucky. I’ve been married to the same woman for 38 years. I have a son, a daughter and five grandkids, four sisters and a brother,” he said. “I still feel younger than 62, and I know God has taken good care of me.”
Unlike many, Paul was not completely stunned by his diagnosis of mesothelioma, the cancer caused by exposure to asbestos fibers. He was diagnosed more than a decade ago with a thickening of the pleura lining around one lung, a symptom that often is a precursor to mesothelioma.
That, too, can be caused by asbestos exposure, which may have come almost 40 years ago when he worked briefly in a factory in Philadelphia.
Yet Paul hardly noticed a problem until late in 2011. For much of his life, he was an avid hiker. He played volleyball, softball and loved the outdoors.
“I was active all my life, then suddenly had this shortness of breath. We were out cross-country skiing one day, and usually I’m leading the pack, having a great time. All of sudden, I couldn’t keep up, couldn’t catch my breath,” he said. “I knew something was wrong. That’s how this all started.”
Paul still spends much of his day encouraging others. The dull ache in his side and the front of his chest reminds him of what he is facing, but it has yet to stop him.
“Discouragement is a tough thing for people to overcome, but I don’t have to deal with that because I’m comfortable with what is going on with my life. I accept it,” he said. “If you think this can help someone else, I’m happy to share my story.”