Pleural Mesothelioma Survivor Enjoys Exciting New Chapter

Survivor Joe Barna

Joe Barna married the love of his life 13 months after he was diagnosed with pleural mesothelioma cancer.

Today, life is good.

Barna is a mesothelioma survivor and a stunning reminder that not everyone given six months to live after a diagnosis has to give up on life. Quite the contrary. He just opened an exhilarating new chapter.

He recently went rollerblading alongside his bride.

“Initially, I was ready to start picking out my coffin. When I got the diagnosis, I felt like I’d been given a death sentence with this type of evil,” he said. “But now I feel like I’ve been blessed, in so many ways. We’re making wonderful new memories together.”

Barna, 56, was diagnosed with mesothelioma in April 2018 after weeks of tests. The tests originally indicated pneumonia, then lung cancer and finally pleural mesothelioma, a rare and aggressive malignancy with no definitive cure.

Life-Changing Mesothelioma Surgery

In August 2018, after two months of chemotherapy, Barna underwent an aggressive pleurectomy and decortication surgery at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. It was performed by renowned thoracic surgeon Dr. Marcelo DaSilva.

Although DaSilva later moved his practice to Orlando, where he opened a new mesothelioma program, he left Barna with the confidence that he could overcome this challenging disease.

“I remember Dr. DaSilva going into surgery talking about my disease, in so many words saying, ‘We’re going to kick its ass.’ He just gave me such an incredibly positive feeling,” Barna said. “My last checkup with him he told me, ‘You don’t even need to be here.’ When he moved away, it was like someone stole my security blanket, but I’ve recovered.”

Barna’s checkups now are every six months at Brigham and Women’s. His latest CT scan was early in March, showing no sign of any recurrence, providing another boost in confidence.

Mesothelioma Survivor Embraces His Faith

Barna also credits his faith in God, the power of prayer and the support of those around him for how well he is feeling today.

He recalls kneeling before his Catholic priest at Saints Mary and Joseph Parish in Salem, New Hampshire. The priest laid a hand on Barna’s chest before saying a prayer for him.

Barna talks passionately about his religious beliefs and about surrounding himself with a church family that showers him with love and prayers.

He also talks at length about miracles.

“The initial news is a shocking, life-changing experience, just an overwhelming feeling and surreal moment of reality. Six months to live,” he said. “But I believe people with a strong faith and the love of God will do better. I’m on the bus, and God is driving it. He’s worked a miracle for me already, providing a future I might never have had.”

That future begins with wife Theresa, whom he met in 2017 at Saints Mary and Joseph. Barna was playing acoustic guitar in the praise band at morning Mass. When the service ended, it was love at first sight.

“It’s not like we met at a Metallica concert, or at a bar during happy hour, so it really was kind of special. We were putting our instruments away when she approached the alter to talk to the musical director, who had invited her,” Barna said. “I looked up, said hello, and just knew she was special.”

Theresa and Joe Barna
Mesothelioma survivor Joe Barna and his wife, Theresa, were married in 2019.

Planning a Long Life Together

Theresa was sitting alongside him in the doctor’s office the day he was diagnosed in 2018. Thirteen months later, nine months after the grueling surgery, they were married in the same church, and began a wonderful new life together.

“There is no gray area when it comes to love. She wanted to share this journey with me,” Barna said. “We’ve never let it [mesothelioma] become an obstacle or barrier. We don’t deny it, but we don’t let it dictate to us. We plan to make memories for years to come, sharing life together for a very long time.”

Those plans include refurbishing the older home they recently bought. It appeals to Barna’s handyman instincts and requires numerous trips to the hardware store for supplies.

“There is always something to do around here,” he said. “I’m replacing the old light fixtures with stainless steel ones because I know they will last. And we plan to be here for quite a while.”

Barna borrowed his neighbor’s truck for a trip to the dump, loading the old portable fire pit and the discolored bird bath left behind by the previous owners. He did it all himself.

Still Living an Active Life

Theresa works full time as an activities director at an assisted living facility. Barna expects to return to work soon for the construction company where he previously worked, but in a less physical role.

Although he lacks the stamina and respiratory strength he once had, he leads a relatively normal life, making few concessions to the disease.

“I still want to feel like a productive member of society. I put my head on the pillow each night wanting to know I did the most I could with each day,” he said. “I want people to know you can survive after the worst diagnosis possible. Miracles happen.”

Barna’s age — younger than most when first diagnosed — played a major role in his quicker-than-normal recovery after surgery. The expertise of his surgeon also helped considerably.

“They poison you with chemotherapy, then gut you like a fish. I compare the surgery I had to a controlled car accident,” he said. “But that’s modern medicine in the mesothelioma world. It worked for me, and it can work for others. I’m living proof that this thing can be beaten.”

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Senior Content Writer

Tim Povtak is an award-winning writer with more than 30 years of reporting national and international news. His specialty is interviewing top mesothelioma specialists and researchers, reporting the latest news at mesothelioma cancer centers and talking with survivors and caregivers.

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