Pleural Mesothelioma Survivor Takes Cancer Journey in Stride
April 14, 2021
Charles Wood wasn’t about to just sit back and accept the often overwhelming, gloom-and-doom diagnosis of malignant pleural mesothelioma.
Not after spending a lifetime making things happen.
He took the news like the problem solver he is. He responded with conviction.
“When they told me the diagnosis I just said, ‘Oh, then we need to get it fixed, don’t we?’” Wood said. “If I’ve got this cancer, then I’ve got it. No use crying over it or complaining about it. I know what it is. Let’s just find a way to fix it.”
Wood, 74, did his homework diligently. He opted for an aggressive multidisciplinary treatment regimen overseen by highly acclaimed mesothelioma specialist Dr. Jacques Fontaine at the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa.
The surgery was radical, the follow-up chemotherapy debilitating at times, and the radiation extensive. Together, though, they have helped Wood beat the odds, taking the fight to this cancer with no definitive cure.
As a two-year mesothelioma survivor, Wood’s life has changed considerably, but it is far from over today.
“I always say, ‘There are three types of people in life: those that make it happen, those that watch it happen and those that wonder what happened,’” Wood said recently from his home in Indiana. “I’ve always been a do-it-yourselfer who made things happen. That’s how I’ve approached this thing. They never said it was going to be easy.”
Survivor Cruises into the Future
Wood calls 2019 his “medical year,” which included the original mesothelioma diagnosis, surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. He considers 2020 and 2021 his comeback years. He has serious plans in the works for 2022 and beyond.
“I’m enjoying life now. Doctors tell me I’m doing great and looking good,” he said. “They also tell me there’s a 75% chance of it coming back, but if I get to five years, I’ve beaten it. I’ve got things to do.”
There is dancing to do with wife Sharon, his No. 1 supporter. There are baseball games to watch when his great-grandson Colin takes the field. There are walks to take with Bella, the puppy he has grown so fond of. And there are dinners to cook, including his beef brisket specialty.
And, of course, for a cruise-a-holic like Wood – he has taken 60 in his lifetime – there is a series of worldwide trips for he and his wife to take. One cruise involves 15 countries and 60 days, and another docks in Antarctica.
“We’ve taken the pandemic seriously and hunkered down, that’s for sure, but we’re making plans now. We’re not sitting around,” he said. “Life is too short for that. You only live once.”
Lessons from Business Help with Mesothelioma Journey
Wood spent the first half of his life in the United Kingdom, where he started his career and became a problem-solving junior executive by age 22. He was a senior manager and vice president for business affairs by 30, becoming an early-stage technology guru that opened so many doors.
He worked every day with a passion to improve. Much of what he learned in the business world he has applied to this journey with mesothelioma.
“Is there something I need to know about that I don’t know? Well, then learn it,” Wood said. “You can’t just sit back and watch. You have to advocate for yourself. If you’re not feeling well, you have to get it fixed. Find the answer.”
Wood settled in the United States in the early 1980s after marrying an American, his first wife, who died in 2011 at age 61 from a rare form of breast cancer.
“That’s why I had some idea of what to expect with this cancer. I knew what chemotherapy and radiation were all about,” he said. “I knew how important it was to get the right doctors, nurses, the expertise you need. They told me my wife was cured after her surgery, and she died two years later. But she never quit.”
Praise for Moffitt Cancer Center
Wood heaps praise on his team at Moffitt Cancer Center, particularly Fontaine, his thoracic surgeon. Oncologist Dr. Andreas Saltos and nurse Gretchen Macmillan, who coordinated his care, also were key to his treatment.
“I was so impressed with the staff there, and that really gave me confidence to get through this,” Wood said. “Dr. Fontaine told me right out I had the type of mesothelioma he could treat effectively. He made me believe. He went into so much detail, spent so much time with me. You could see how dedicated he was right from the start.”
Wood lived previously in Southern California and Nashville, Tennessee, then in Central Florida, where he and his wife were when he was diagnosed with pleural mesothelioma. They met in 2014 and were married in 2015.
“He has slowed down a little since the surgery and he can’t lift anything heavy yet, which frustrates him, but he’s still the same person,” Sharon Wood said. “The radio comes on and he’s dancing to the music, making things happen.”
With the blessing of doctors at Moffitt, in 2020 the couple moved to Kokomo, Indiana, to be closer to her family and where Dr. Daniel Milton has become his oncologist now.
“I hate the cold weather here, but I couldn’t have done this without her. She would never let me quit,” Wood said of his wife. “You can’t have a bad attitude around her. She just won’t allow it. That kind of support is so important with something like this.”
Wood’s biggest frustration is the decreased mobility of his left arm and side where the surgery took place. He once took pride in his handyman capabilities around the house, able to solve any problem that arose. Those days may be over.
He recently needed help assembling and erecting the swing on their front porch where he and Sharon often sit in the evenings.
“It’s rather frustrating for me. The mind wants to do things, but the body won’t let you do them anymore,” he said. “I needed help from the neighbors, three sets of hands, to make the swing happen. But now I can sit at night with a cold beer out there and watch the world go by. Life is still pretty good.”