25-Year Peritoneal Mesothelioma Survivor Discusses Her Recovery

Stories from Survivors

Tammy Frank has been a mesothelioma survivor for 25 years now. Today she says she feels wonderful and calls herself a miracle.

“I never thought I would live to be 60. I just thank God that I have each day that I have,” Tammy told The Mesothelioma Center at Asbestos.com.

Tammy was diagnosed with peritoneal mesothelioma in 1999. At stage 3, her doctors told her she had about 6 months to live. Soon after learning the news, she bought her own cemetery plot not far from her home in Georgia. 

She shares that 25 years ago she didn’t know how to tell her two young children she was diagnosed with an incurable cancer. Instead, they took a family vacation to Disney World. 

It was a way for Tammy to ensure that her children were able to make memories with her. She says she saw the trip as an important opportunity to take lots of pictures she thought they would need to cherish when she was gone. Now Tammy tells us she spends her days “spoiling” her 5 grandchildren who she didn’t think she’d even get a chance to meet. 

Tammy Shares Her Challenges With Pain Management 

As much of the cancer as possible was removed during surgery. Tammy’s surgeon also removed her intestines and her liver was scraped. As part of her multimodal treatment plan, she also underwent chemotherapy and radiation.

During radiation and chemotherapy, she experienced several side effects. “I had a lot of nausea and vomiting. I also lost some hair and experienced fatigue,” Tammy said.

While she says she’s in good overall health now, she’s still dealing with a bladder issue that is believed to be a long-term effect of her chemotherapy treatments. 

Pain is a common symptom of mesothelioma and complication of many types of mesothelioma treatment. To help her manage her mesothelioma pain, Tammy says her doctors prescribed opiates for her. 

“Opiates can really ruin your life,” Tammy says. “I became addicted to pain medication for about 12 years. Today I’m now 15 years pain medicine-free.”

Tammy now takes Suboxone, a sublingual film that contains a combination of medications (​​buprenorphine and naloxone) to help treat opioid addiction and manage withdrawal. While the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has only approved Suboxone to treat opioid use disorder, some patients report it can help with controlling chronic pain. Tammy says it’s helping to control the chronic pain she still experiences in her abdomen.

“I always live in constant pain, but the Suboxone controls the pain,” she reports. “My pain levels are about a 3 or 4, instead of a 7 or 8 like it used to be all of the time.” 

With her pain managed, she says now her only lingering effect is fatigue. However, she says keeping on the move is a priority for her.

Tammy credits her family for helping her make a full recovery. She says they got her through all of the challenges she’s faced during her 25-year mesothelioma journey.

“My family was the bright part in all of this,” she shares. “My husband, my daughter and my son were all there for me through it all, even with my addiction. The kids had to be very understanding. If it weren’t for them I wouldn’t be where I am today.”

Sharing Advice for Fellow Mesothelioma Survivors

“I would tell other survivors to live life. That’s my main thing,” Tammy advises. “You just have to let go and let God guide you. You just need to keep your spirits up and be happy. Don’t just lay down. I know some people that get cancer and they just give up. But you can’t give up because you never know what’s ahead.” 

Tammy says she’s taking her own advice and planning adventures. Traveling is one of her favorite things in life.

“I love to travel, so I’m trying to get my travel agent license so we can just travel around,” she says. “We want to start traveling and spending time with our grandkids.” 

So far Tammy and her family have already been to Hawaii. They also have a camper so they can travel around with a home away from home on shorter trips. Next she has her sights set on Scotland as a future vacation destination.

Tammy also suggests fellow mesothelioma survivors seek financial assistance. She explains her money went quickly during her recovery and wishes that someone would have mentioned making finances a priority to her. She recommends tapping into available patient resources. For example, the team of Patient Advocates at The Mesothelioma Center include a doctor, registered nurse, hospice care expert, a military veteran, VA-accredited claims agents and an oncology patient navigator. They can connect patients, caregivers and loved ones to resources that can help with medical expenses.

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