Mesothelioma Survivor Stays Active at 84 Years Old

Stories from Survivors

Susan Dickman underwent an intense 11-hour surgery 12 years ago at the age of 72. Because of her age many doctors she consulted were against the idea of her having surgery, believing she wouldn’t be able to endure the intense procedure. But Susan was determined to have the surgery and was committed to ensuring her health post-surgery.

She made it her mission to interview mesothelioma specialists and find the right surgeon for her case. She knew once she had her mesothelioma surgery that she could have a long recovery process ahead and that she’d need to work to maintain her overall health.

Today Susan is 84 years old and can’t say enough good things about Wake Forest Medical Center and surgical oncologist Dr. Edward Levine. Her recovery from cytoreductive and HIPEC surgery took a total of 9 months, but today she enjoys good health without any recurrence of cancer. 

Staying Active After Surgery

Before her diagnosis and surgery, Susan always led an active life. She worked out at the gym, played croquet, did yoga and played tennis. Now she says walking is her main form of exercise

“I’ve got a puppy who’s 1 year old. She was 5 months old when I got her,” Susan told The Mesothelioma Center at “When I decided to get a puppy my kids told me I was crazy. And maybe I am since I have to walk her in the cold in the middle of the night and cleaning up after her. It’s still not easy, but I think it’s made me stronger.” 

Susan said at the time she got her puppy, Lilly, she was grieving the loss of her husband and her beloved golden retriever, Sugar. She shares that Sugar was so loyal she rarely left Susan’s side during her recovery from surgery. 

Sugar was such a help during Susan’s time of need, she says she made her believe in therapy dogs. Today, Lilly is helping keep Susan active and healthy.

Susan says she walks about 6,000 to 7,000 steps a day. All of those steps are a major improvement just 1 year after recovering from a bout of sepsis (following a recent surgery unrelated to mesothelioma) that left her immobile. 

Susan spent almost a year in a rehabilitation facility. Today she’s almost completely recovered and hopes to get back into yoga again soon. 

Susan’s Approach to Nutrition and Enjoying Life

Mesothelioma patients have specific nutritional needs and often follow a recommended diet of lean proteins, healthy fats and antioxidant rich foods. Dietitians typically advise patients to avoid processed meats, saturated fats and high-sugar but low-nutrition foods. 

When it comes to nutrition Susan says she hasn’t really changed her diet at all since her mesothelioma diagnosis or surgery. But she says she’s never had much of an appetite. 

“I’m just the worst eater in the world,” Susan admits. “I dread mealtime coming around because I don’t feel like eating. I 

While she doesn’t typically enjoy mealtimes, she does enjoy good company. She says her appetite is still limited, but she finds social dining helps her eat more.

“If I’m with people I can eat – not a lot,” she explains. “If I’m talking, I get distracted and I can eat more.”

When asked what she’d enjoy doing in the future Susan shared, “There are things I want to do. I’d like to travel across the United States and Canada. I just want to enjoy life.”

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