Mesothelioma Survivor Enjoys Good Health 12 Years After Surgery

Stories from Survivors

At 72 years old Susan Dickman was diagnosed with stage 4 peritoneal mesothelioma. Her doctors told her at her advanced stage of disease progression and her age, she wasn’t a candidate for surgery.

After her doctors recommended palliative care alone, saying they felt mesothelioma surgery wasn’t an option for her, Susan and her husband began interviewing other doctors. She was determined to explore more aggressive treatment options.

Susan says she has no regrets seeking a second opinion. She knew surgery would be intense, but believed surgery would be the best hope for improving her prognosis.

“My husband and I interviewed many doctors via telehealth, going to Atlanta or driving to other places with my medical records and lab reports,” Susan told The Mesothelioma Center at “One of the surgeons I was interviewing told me that it’s a ‘barbaric surgery’ and ‘I would never advise any of my family members to do that.’ I said, ‘I’m not your family member and I’m doing it.’”

Finding the Right Doctor for Her

After conducting many interviews with doctors, Susan made the decision to go with surgical oncologist Dr. Edward Levine. He’s chief of surgical oncology at Wake Forest Baptist Health Comprehensive Cancer Center. Dr. Levine is nationally recognized as a top heated intraperitoneal chemotherapy and cytoreductive surgery specialist.

“We chose a doctor who had done more of these surgeries than anybody else. Numbers count for any surgery,” Susan shared. “There was another doctor my husband and I really thought was a great guy too, but he said he’s only done 8 cytoreductive surgeries with HIPEC and Dr. Levine has done hundreds.” 

Fellow peritoneal mesothelioma survivor and White House Cancer Moonshot participant Tamron Little has written extensively about her experiences with Dr. Levine for The Mesothelioma Center as well. She was recently reunited with him for a special webinar to help other patients learn about cytoreductive surgery and HIPEC.

Tamron wrote of Dr. Levine: “The very first time I met Dr. Edward Levine, I knew this was the doctor I had been waiting and praying for. He was very confident and knowledgeable, and shared facts my family and I didn’t know about peritoneal mesothelioma. This experience was night and day from the first oncologist I had seen.”

“It was the first time since the diagnosis that I felt a calmness in my spirit,” Tamron added. “I knew it was God who sent me to Dr. Levine ­– a doctor who not only specializes in peritoneal mesothelioma but was one of the pioneers of the groundbreaking HIPEC treatment. Seeing a specialist is just that – special!”


Susan’s Cytoreductive Surgery With HIPEC and Recovery

In June 2012, Susan underwent cytoreductive surgery with HIPEC. During her 11-hour procedure, cancer was removed from several areas of her abdominal cavity. 

She also had her appendix, gallbladder, omentum, reproductive organs, spleen and sections of her liver removed. After that a heated chemotherapy solution soaked her abdomen for 90 minutes to kill any remaining cancer cells. 

Susan’s recovery time in the hospital was much quicker than expected. However, overall it took quite a while for her to feel like she was back to normal.

“I was supposed to be in the hospital for 2 weeks, but after 6 days I just wanted out,” she told us. “It took me 9 months to 1 year to recover.” 

Susan had both a nurse and a physical therapist come to her house for care and therapy sessions. She says working with the physical therapist helped her get her strength back.

“It took a long time,” Susan says. “It was almost like I had PTSD also because it just knocks you down big time.”

She did experience an infection 6 weeks after the procedure. Her wound needed to be cleaned out more thoroughly. However, she says this was her only complication from the surgery and adds, “I think I’m blessed.”

“I also had a concierge doctor who watched me like a hawk for years. I was glad for that,” Susan explains. “So I had this concierge doctor and my surgeon looking after me so that got me through.”

She also credits her family saying, “My husband helped me and my kids. God, all of them helped and got me back to normal. And I have a very strong will.”

Advice for Survivors and Susan’s Current Health

When asked what Susan would share with others on their mesothelioma journey she said, “I can’t tell anybody what to do. I would take it from my own perspective.”

“You fight through it,” Susan shared. “You get positive and you pray. You surround yourself with people who you love. But not everyone has that God-given gift like me where I’m mostly positive in my life. I deal with reality but I feel like I have a survival mentality.”

She says her personal drive helped her as well. Susan adds, “I want to be productive. I have a great need to be productive.”

Today after more than a decade out from her intensive surgery and at 84 years old, Susan says overall she’s been enjoying good health. She also says she doesn’t have any lingering effects from the procedure and hasn’t had a recurrence of cancer. 

“Life is good,” she says.

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