Mesothelioma Survivors and Their Stories

Advancements in treatment and earlier detection have helped mesothelioma patients improve their prognosis. These survivor stories provide hope and inspiration.

Patricia Stevens
Diagnosis: pleural mesothelioma, 2021

Patricia’s love of travel wouldn’t let her stay down for long after the chemotherapy and pleurectomy and decortication surgery she received for pleural mesothelioma. Prior to treatment, she had traveled to 47 states and five continents throughout her lifetime. “I learned a long time ago, you can lose everything – your home, your money, your health – but that travel experience, it never goes away,” she said. She has plans to visit the remaining three states and two continents. Cancer runs in her family. Her mother and cousin also died of mesothelioma, and she survived a liver cancer diagnosis in 2010 and lost her daughter to cancer soon after her surgery. “I’ve been so fortunate,” she said. “I’ve made a few mistakes along the way, went through some difficult times, but everyone has bad days. I’m sure I’ll have some rough ones ahead of me. You just have to remember the good ones.”

Cheryl Pilkington
Diagnosis: pleural mesothelioma, 2020

Cheryl’s diagnosis may have limited her time playing golf and tennis. But it didn’t impact her desire to serve others. She is a board-certified family physician and regular volunteer in her community. She still helps at her church, a veterans’ club, a local homeless shelter and a home for disabled children. “It’s just who I am,” Cheryl said. “I try to live every day as positively as I can. I’ve been lucky.” One of Cheryl’s gifts is sewing, and she makes quilts, clothing and holiday outfits for children. Her treatment has included a pleurectomy and decortication surgery, chemotherapy and immunotherapy.

Quincy Jones
Diagnosis: peritoneal mesothelioma, 2015

Quincy turned his diagnosis into an opportunity to follow his passion for stand-up comedy in 2016 when he appeared on The Ellen DeGeneres Show. Soon, he had a one-hour special on HBO, “Quincy Jones: Burning the Light,” filmed shortly after a round of chemotherapy. Quincy initially underwent cytoreductive surgery with heated chemotherapy, which kept him free of recurrence until doctors discovered new tumors on his lungs in 2021. Another round of chemotherapy kept the recurrence under control. He returned to performing stand-up comedy in Los Angeles and has tour dates planned for 2022.

Alexis Kidd
Diagnosis: peritoneal mesothelioma, 2007

Alexis was diagnosed with peritoneal mesothelioma in 2007 at age 37. She had major surgery that removed part of her diaphragm, yet she kept her wedding plans in place. Alexis refuses to let mesothelioma get in the way of the life she and her husband have built. In 2017, she helped him through a stage 3 skin cancer diagnosis. They don’t know how many wedding anniversaries they will have, but they celebrate their time together. “It’s kind of cool now to hear people say, ‘You don’t look or act sick,’” Alexis said.

Tim Crisler
Diagnosis: pleural mesothelioma, 2002

Tim originally decided against surgery and chemotherapy when he was diagnosed with pleural mesothelioma in 2002, but his daughter convinced him otherwise. He traveled to Boston and underwent an extrapleural pneumonectomy at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. The surgery and chemotherapy were taxing, but he has exceeded all expectations. “I’ve done a lot,” Tim said. “I’m glad I listened to my daughter. My family now is what keeps me going.” Tim hasn’t had a recurrence in the two decades since his diagnosis, but he still copes with pain. He is among America’s longest-living male pleural mesothelioma survivors.

Michelle Marshall
Diagnosis: peritoneal mesothelioma, 2002

Michelle wanted something special to commemorate her 10-year milestone as a mesothelioma survivor. She had an artist tattoo “FAITH” on her left wrist, where she could see it anytime she needed some help. “I do believe everything happens for a reason, and I have faith that God has a plan for me,” Michelle says. “After everything I’ve been through, it would be impossible to think otherwise.” A single mom, Michelle was diagnosed at 44. Her daughter was 5 at the time. The hardest part emotionally was getting past the thought of leaving her daughter at such a young age. “She grew up quickly, taking care of me when I was so sick,” Michelle says. “And now, I live for her.”

Trina Reif
Diagnosis: peritoneal mesothelioma, 2001

Trina traveled the country — and loved every minute of it — after recovering from a combination of cytoreductive surgery and heated chemotherapy. She was diagnosed young, at 36 years of age, which gave her a fighting chance at long-term survival. “I was told to get my affairs in order. The diagnosis was devastating, but I was determined to live long enough to see who my two children would become,” Trina said. “I’ve done that. Now, every day is a gift.” Over the past two decades, Trina watched her children grow up and get married. She now has four grandchildren to enjoy. “It’s been 20 years, and I’m good,” she said. “Do I look at my scar every day when I take a shower? Absolutely, but every scar shows you’re a survivor.”

Ruth Phillips
Diagnosis: peritoneal mesothelioma, 1999

Ruth opted against the conventional treatments recommended upon her diagnosis of peritoneal mesothelioma in 1999, taking an alternative therapy approach instead. She found the Immune Augmentative Therapy Centre, now known as Quantum Immunotherapy, in Freeport, Bahamas, which focused on rebuilding her immune system. Ruth returned to Freeport annually for many years and now relies on vitamins, supplements and herbal formulas to stay healthy.

Support for Survivors and Their Families

Finding out you or a loved one have mesothelioma can feel overwhelming. But you do not have to face this situation alone. There are plenty of resources to help you through this difficult time.

Survivors find support from family, friends, neighbors and community organizations. Support can also come from online support groups.

Many hospitals and churches host cancer support groups. You may not find many people familiar with mesothelioma near where you live. But if you search online you can find active communities you can turn to for support.

Learning from medical professionals, patient advocates and mesothelioma survivors will help guide you on your treatment journey.

Surviving Mesothelioma 

A 2021 study in BMC Cancer confirmed that the 5-year survival rate for mesothelioma is 10% or less. There is no blueprint to becoming a long-term mesothelioma survivor. But making certain healthy choices may benefit your survival.

  • Find the Right Doctor: Go to a specialist with training and experience in mesothelioma treatment. Don’t be afraid to seek a second opinion. Ask plenty of questions to be as informed as possible about your health.
  • Protect Your Lungs: Avoid tobacco smoke and other types of air contamination.
  • Make Smart Nutrition Choices: Eat plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean protein, and cut back on processed foods.
  • Stay Active: Do as much light exercise as you can every day, and keep your mind occupied with activities you enjoy.
  • Make the Most of Your Time: Do what makes you happy. Appreciate the little things in life that bring you joy. Try not to stress over things outside your control and treat every day like a holiday.

Facing mesothelioma is difficult for a patient’s whole family, and caregivers need just as much help as patients do. If you are taking care of a loved one with mesothelioma, don’t hesitate to seek out support for yourself as well.

Why Do Some Mesothelioma Patients Live Longer Than Others?

How long someone lives following a diagnosis depends on the stage of the cancer. It also depends on location, how fast it spreads, and a person’s overall health, age and gender. Mesothelioma life expectancy varies from case to case. Emerging treatments and clinical trials help some patients outlive their life expectancy.

Early detection plays a vital role in becoming a long-term survivor. The earlier mesothelioma is detected, the more treatment options a patient has. The development of new diagnostic techniques has led to more effective treatments.

A specialist can treat the cancer and increase the odds of long-term survival. Improved surgical techniques, better drug combinations and more targeted therapies are important to improve survival rates.

We feature inspirational stories on our Wall of Hope. These include first-person accounts of how mesothelioma survivors are winning their battles.

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In Memoriam: Mesothelioma Survivors We Lost

We honor the stories of mesothelioma survivors who lived their lives to the fullest before they died. Their stories serve as a reminder of the medical advancements needed to cure this disease.

Emily Ward
Diagnosis: pleural mesothelioma, 2012

Following her diagnosis, Emily sought out the best mesothelioma surgeon at the time, Dr. David Sugarbaker. Emily credited Sugarbaker for her nearly 10-year survival with pleural mesothelioma. The diagnosis forced her to retire after 43 years as a nurse. However, she soon returned to work as a pharmacy tech and lodging manager at a physical therapy center. Emily continued to care for others after her diagnosis by helping family members, volunteering in her community and actively supporting the mesothelioma community. “I tell my family that you need to celebrate every day that you’re alive and don’t need to save it for a couple times a year,” she said. “Celebrate everybody in your life every day.” Emily died in May 2022.

Col. Doug Thomas
Diagnosis: pleural mesothelioma, 2020

Doug was concerned he would never wear his U.S. Army uniform again after his diagnosis. But less than 12 weeks after his pleurectomy and decortication surgery, Doug was back serving as chief of operations for the Long-Range Precision Fires Cross-Functional Team at the Fort Sill (Oklahoma) Army Base. “My mantra now is ‘live for each day.’ I still have some aches and pains from the surgery, but I get up every morning and enjoy my life,” he said. Doug’s support team included his family, spiritual advisor, cancer coach and mesothelioma specialist Dr. R. Taylor Ripley. Doug died in May 2021.

Sydney Roberts
Diagnosis: pleural mesothelioma, 2011

Sydney nearly died from rheumatic fever more than 60 years ago. She knew what it was like to fight for her life, which she did successfully with pleural mesothelioma for six years. Sydney and her husband embarked on an aggressive treatment plan and took charge of her care by questioning doctors and getting second and third opinions. “I’m an independent, outspoken person,” Sydney said. “I certainly wasn’t ready to say, ‘You win, mesothelioma.’ We attacked this monster with every resource we could find.” Sydney died in September 2016.

Andy Ashcraft
Diagnosis: pleural mesothelioma, 2010

Andy survived a horrific motorcycle crash in 2004 that almost killed him, and he had every intention of surviving his 2010 diagnosis of pleural mesothelioma. Andy was not a surgical candidate because his cancer had already metastasized, but he found something better. With the help of mesothelioma specialist Dr. David Jablons at the University of California San Francisco, Andy enrolled in a clinical trial involving amatuximab. This experimental immunotherapy drug worked well for him. “I consider myself extremely lucky for a lot of reasons,” Andy said. “I haven’t won the lottery yet, but I’m working on that.” Andy also went on to use medical cannabis as a complementary therapy. Andy died in 2017.

Larry Davis
Diagnosis: pleural mesothelioma, 2006

Larry lived six years after his mesothelioma diagnosis, which also killed his father many years before. Larry, who lived in South Florida, was an avid runner. He organized the annual Miles for Meso road race in Boca Raton each February. Larry worked tirelessly to raise awareness of this dreaded disease and raise money for research. Even after five surgeries, Larry still completed a Father’s Day Triathlon in 2011 with his daughter in North Carolina. He shunned much of the traditional chemotherapy and radiation treatment and mainly relied on immunotherapy and alternative medicine. Larry died in June 2012.

Janelle Bedel
Diagnosis: pleural mesothelioma, 2006

Janelle was diagnosed with pleural mesothelioma at the age of 31, which is unusually young for this disease. Her six-year fight turned her into a hometown hero in tiny Rushville, Indiana. Janelle also became a national spokesperson who advocated strongly for more research funding and diligence in ending the asbestos era in America. The mayor of Rushville designated June 6 as “Wonder Woman Day” to honor Janelle’s fight. She played a critical role in gaining congressional support to designate Sept. 26 as National Mesothelioma Awareness Day. Janelle died in 2013.

James O’Connor
Diagnosis: pleural mesothelioma, 2001

James was initially diagnosed with mesothelioma in October 2001. Despite being given less than a year to live, he survived another seven years. James did not undergo surgery, radiation therapy or chemotherapy. Instead, he chose to combat his disease through a strict nutritional regimen and mind-body therapy. James died in 2008.

Wayne N.
Diagnosis: pleural mesothelioma, 1991

Wayne spent his career as a union electrician in Ohio. He was diagnosed with mesothelioma in 1991, which pushed him into early retirement. Wayne attributed his long-term survival to antioxidants such as melatonin found in red tart cherries, which he ate every night for more than two decades. “There’s something magical in those cherries,” Wayne said. “I don’t know exactly why they work, but they do.” Wayne died in 2016.

Christine S.
Diagnosis: pleural mesothelioma, 2007

Christine lived in England and never worked around asbestos. However, she believed she was exposed through her father. He mixed asbestos cement every day on his job site and then wore his work clothes home. Christine was diagnosed with mesothelioma in October 2007, years after her father died, likely of the same disease. She underwent repeated chemotherapy that shrank the tumor and controlled the disease, allowing her to be active in various cancer awareness events in the United Kingdom. Christine died in August 2013.

Mike D.
Diagnosis: pleural mesothelioma, 2001

Mike had his first surgery for mesothelioma in February 2001. After another surgery and other treatments, Mike remained relatively active. He encouraged fellow mesothelioma patients to use the resources around them and rely on loved ones. Mike died in September 2011.

Judy G.
Diagnosis: pleural mesothelioma, 1990

Judy was diagnosed with pleural mesothelioma in 1990 and lived with the disease until 2010. In addition to undergoing several extensive surgeries, she relied heavily on alternative treatments such as meditation, massage therapy and nutritional remedies. The book “Surviving Mesothelioma: Making Your Own Miracle” chronicled her story. Judy died in 2010.