Mesothelioma Survivor Still Relishing Graduation Day

Stories from Survivors

Written by Tim Povtak

Reading Time: 5 mins
Publication Date: 06/05/2018
Fact Checked
Our fact-checking process begins with a thorough review of all sources to ensure they are high quality. Then we cross-check the facts with original medical or scientific reports published by those sources, or we validate the facts with reputable news organizations, medical and scientific experts and other health experts. Each page includes all sources for full transparency.
Reviewed is the nation’s most trusted mesothelioma resource

The Mesothelioma Center at has provided patients and their loved ones the most updated and reliable information on mesothelioma and asbestos exposure since 2006.

Our team of Patient Advocates includes a medical doctor, a registered nurse, health services administrators, veterans, VA-accredited Claims Agents, an oncology patient navigator and hospice care expert. Their combined expertise means we help any mesothelioma patient or loved one through every step of their cancer journey.

More than 30 contributors, including mesothelioma doctors, survivors, health care professionals and other experts, have peer-reviewed our website and written unique research-driven articles to ensure you get the highest-quality medical and health information.

About The Mesothelioma Center at

  • Assisting mesothelioma patients and their loved ones since 2006.
  • Helps more than 50% of mesothelioma patients diagnosed annually in the U.S.
  • A+ rating from the Better Business Bureau.
  • 5-star reviewed mesothelioma and support organization.
Learn More About Us


My family has only the highest compliment for the assistance and support that we received from The Mesothelioma Center. This is a staff of compassionate and knowledgeable individuals who respect what your family is experiencing and who go the extra mile to make an unfortunate diagnosis less stressful. Information and assistance were provided by The Mesothelioma Center at no cost to our family.
Mesothelioma patient’s daughter
  • Google Review Rating
  • BBB Review Rating

How to Cite’s Article


Povtak, T. (2023, March 7). Mesothelioma Survivor Still Relishing Graduation Day. Retrieved June 8, 2023, from


Povtak, Tim. "Mesothelioma Survivor Still Relishing Graduation Day.", 7 Mar 2023,


Povtak, Tim. "Mesothelioma Survivor Still Relishing Graduation Day." Last modified March 7, 2023.

Six years after aggressive surgery for pleural mesothelioma, Kay Kilpatrick-Simmons watched proudly as granddaughter Claire crossed the stage at Marymount High School to accept her diploma last month.

Mission accomplished.

The congratulatory hug was emotional — in more ways than one.

Kilpatrick-Simmons, 73, already has beaten the odds, using her goal-setting power of positive thinking, family support and the expertise of Dr. Robert Cameron, mesothelioma specialist and senior professor of thoracic surgery at UCLA Medical Center.

“One of my goals was to be around long enough to see the grandkids graduate,” Kilpatrick-Simmons told “This was the second one. And it means a lot. Sure, I’d love to see a couple more.”

Clayton, 12, and Anna, 6, are next in line.

“I like to set goals and focus on them,” she said. “Mental attitude plays into this. How much? I’m not sure, but I won’t watch sad movies, for example, only happy stuff, comedies. I stay away from anything that might be depressing. I try not to even think about this disease unless I have a scan coming up.”

Dr. Cameron Makes A Difference

Kilpatrick-Simmons sees Cameron every three months for checkups at UCLA, where she first underwent the aggressive pleurectomy and decortication (P/D) surgery in 2012.

The post-surgery survival has been a fight that tested her determination. The radiation treatments caused pneumonitis, a serious inflammation of the lung that required hospitalization.

Extensive chemotherapy caused kidney failure and another trip to the hospital.

She rebounded both times and watched her oldest grandchild (Scott) graduate two years ago.

She also underwent cryoablation, a novel treatment at UCLA which involved killing recurrent mesothelioma tumor cells with liquid nitrogen.

Recent scans show no new tumor growth, but catching her breath after a short walk still can be difficult. She travels a lot by wheelchair.

She has met with a nine-year mesothelioma survivor who also is a patient of Cameron’s and doing equally well. Together, they have become an inspiration to many, far exceeding the typical expectations with pleural mesothelioma.

“Dr. Cameron has been great. He’s always encouraging, motivating me,” Kilpatrick-Simmons said. “He’s like a cheerleader almost, raising my spirits each time I see him. A lot of people didn’t think I would make it this far. He did. He always did.”

Her biggest supporter throughout this fight has been husband Cliff, who is 13 years older but has served as her primary caregiver. He fractured his hip a year ago but still insisted on accompanying her to a checkup.

They laugh about it now.

“Somebody said we looked like a train going into the doctor’s office, each of us getting pushed in a wheelchair,” she said. “But he’s better now, doing everything again. He’s been unbelievably supportive.”

Mesothelioma Diagnosis Was Stunning

Kilpatrick-Simmons spent much of her career in health care — first as a clinical nurse before moving into administrative work.

She was stunned by the original diagnosis, which came not long after she and her daughter finished a two-day, 40-mile walking marathon.

It was the seventh time they had done it together, an annual breast cancer awareness event.

But something felt different that last time. It seemed more grueling than usual.

“I used to walk five miles a day, worked out with a trainer, kept in good shape. But now I’m pretty much sedentary,” she said. “My legs are still great, but breathing can be a problem when I try to exercise. If not for that, I might still be dancing.”

Staying Strong and Positive

Instead of exercising now, Kilpatrick-Simmons keeps a daily journal, usually documenting the day’s events each evening.

“I write down what I’m grateful for, things as simple as going out to dinner with my husband, watching the birds out back on the fence, visiting with friends, going to graduation,” she said. “It keeps me positive. Back when I was healthy and working, I was too busy to stop and appreciate the little things that I was grateful for.”

She is especially grateful for finding Cameron, whose office is three miles from her home in Los Angeles.

There are patients who travel from around the country for his expertise in treating mesothelioma.

She found him around the corner.

And despite the disease, the tone of her voice is consistently positive. Instead of bemoaning her fate, she talks about new doors it opens.

“It makes you appreciate things. Seeing life from a wheelchair is an interesting human study from my perspective,” she said. “People either don’t see you, or they are totally sweet. When I go to a school function, I could not be treated better if I was a queen. It’s wonderful.”

Her weekend after Claire’s graduation last month was typical.

“It was a weekend of parties. My daughter and her husband hosted a big barbecue. It was a lot of fun,” she said. “It may have been a small graduating class, but there was a lot of celebrating. I used to love being part of those big crowds. It felt really good to be there.”

open book icon vector illustration
Free Mesothelioma Guide
Get Answers to All Your Mesothelioma Questions