California soccer mom in tough match with meso

April 7, 2008

Gloria Serrins is a 54 year-old mother of three beautiful daughters who lives in Mission Viejo with her husband, Phil, to whom she has been married for 31 years. Outgoing, vivacious, and completely dedicated to her family, Gloria now finds herself in a scenario that on one could have predicted.

In July, 2007 Gloria realized that something was wrong with her health. Vigorous, athletic, and normally full of energy, she could feel that something was out of synch, but didn’t know what it was. At first Gloria thought it might be the flu, but that didn’t explain the constant discomfort she felt whenever she was seated.

The discomfort caused her to fidget, and ultimately to have problems sleeping. Since Gloria always slept on her right side, it was too painful to lie down.

Trouble in paradise

Gloria and Phil were approaching their 31st wedding anniversary and he had set up a cruise to Alaska. Normally engaged and excited to be doing things with “the love of her life,” Gloria simply couldn’t muster any excitement about being away from home. The trip was extremely important to Phil so that they could celebrate their marriage, and also because Phil’s father had died at an early age after a lifetime of hard work. “I made up my mind early on that I’d take those extra minutes, hours, and days to be with my family. I miss my father every single day, and vowed that the only thing we really have in life—time—I would share with Gloria and the girls.”

Phil Serrins adores his wife, and he had sacrificed an 80-hour week career track to lead a lifestyle that would let him be there for them. Whether it was the school play, a family weekend trip, or traveling for soccer games, Phil and Gloria pulled together for thirty-one years, always in the same direction, always with the same goals in mind, always bound together by love.

Gloria vowed not to say anything to Phil about the pain because she knew that if he had any inkling, he would cancel the cruise and have her in front of a doctor immediately. The cruise was terrible, with Gloria’s discomfort descending into misery, compounded by an inability to sleep more than a couple of hours each night. Gloria was still afraid to say anything because Phil had developed a pain in his right eye during the trip and she was petrified that they would both be sick at the same time. Unable to withstand the pain any longer, she told Phil when they returned to California, after having endured almost unbearable pain and sleep deprivation on an ocean-bound cruise.

Web detective

Just as she had known he would, Phil whisked Gloria to St. Joseph’s, where a CT scan, MRI, and x-ray revealed spots on her lung. Dr. Brian Palafox was unable to conclusively diagnose, so Phil took charge. He got on the Internet and began consulting with doctors who he knew through his chiropractic practice.

Dr. Palafox affirmed that the only way to get a conclusive diagnosis was via a tissue biopsy. On Oct. 15 Gloria went in for surgery and, and the surgeon performed the biopsy and a talc pleurodesis. Subsequent immunohistochemical staining confirmed mesothelioma, biphasic type. When the Serrins learned that the oncologist recommended by Dr. Palafox only saw one mesothelioma case per year, they decided to continue looking.

Gloria was diagnosed with bi-phasic pleural mesothelioma on October 16, 2007.

Following her diagnosis, Gloria consulted with Dr. Cameron in Los Angeles, and Dr. Rusch and Dr. Pass in New York. All three surgeons determined that Gloria as not a candidate for surgery because of the cell type and advanced stage of her disease. Gloria began treating with one of the nation’s leading medical oncologists, Dr. Vogelzang at the Nevada Caner Institute in Las Vegas.

Despite an aggressive and arduous regimen of chemotherapy, Gloria consulted with Dr. Cameron again after her doctors determined that the Alimta/cisplatin regimen was not working. Unfortunately, she was still ineligible for surgery. Although a different chemo cocktail showed no progression of the tumor, it failed to show that the tumor had shrunk, either.

Chemotherapy has been discontinued, and five weeks from now she will do another CT scan to look into additional treatment. Gloria is struggling her hardest to keep the cancer at bay.

An American family

Gloria was born in 1953 in Goeppening, Germany, the daughter of a U.S. WWII army veteran and a German national. Her father, Francisco “Frank” Carillo, brought the family to the U.S. that same year, and the family relocated in southern California.

Gloria and Phil’s first daughter, Ricki-Ann, was born in1980. The family moved to Mission Viejo because Phil was studying to be a chiropractor. Gloria and Phil’s second daughter, Stacy, was born in 1981, and their daughter Lindsey was born in 1984. After Lindsey’s birth, Gloria became a full time housewife.

The dynamic and loving Serrins family has been built in large part by the unstinting love and devotion of Gloria. The unique character of each daughter was carefully nurtured so that each grew up to be a mature and responsible adult. Ricki-Ann loved being outside, and never played with dolls but liked sports, bikes, and action. Ricki-Ann played little league baseball as the only girl on her team, and later became an accomplished soccer player. Stacy loved play with Gloria’s jewelry, makeup, and clothing. At age three she entered dance school, and learned tap and ballet. Gloria would drive Ricki-Ann to soccer practice and Stacy to dance class and had to coordinate the transportation so no time was wasted. Stacy danced until she was twelve. The family never missed going to one of Stacy’s recitals.

Like her older sisters, Lindsey was always busy with sports and dance, and Gloria spent all her time taking care of the three girls. Gloria would volunteer at the girls’ elementary school until eventually she was at the school every single day. With three daughters at the same school at the same time, she helped the teachers any way she could. Gloria took care of other children as well, and when she became familiar with the kids and their parents she’d set aside Friday as the day to take her daughters and their friends to lunch at Taco Bell. The kids loved having Gloria in the classroom, and Phil would often come by the school on his lunch break. The daughters loved having their parents around at school.
Ricki-Ann graduated from the University of Maryland on a soccer scholarship.

Ricki-Ann is an assistant soccer coach at Tulane University in New Orleans. Stacy attended Santa Barbara City College where she studied art and dance. Stacy graduated from beauty college and works as an esthetician at the Montage Resort at Laguna Beach. Lindsey was recruited to UCLA for their crew team, and graduated in 2005 as a history major. She now works as an elementary school teacher in New Orleans, near her older sister. All three daughters attribute their success to their nurturing, involved, and tireless mother. Gloria’s devotion and dedication to her family, and her extraordinary toughness, are exemplified best when she says, with no trace of pride, “All three of my girls were natural childbirths. I didn’t want it any other way.”

After thirty-one years of marriage, Gloria and Phil have grown together spiritually and emotionally. They both love to garden and spend their weekends together in the yard. With numerous flowers in the yard, the centerpiece is Gloria’s rose garden. Gloria loves crafts, decorating, wildlife, and dogs. She has a blue-gold macaw that chatters gregariously in their home, and two Australian shepherds, Berkeley and Mac. She and Phil love to take their daily promenade around the neighborhood, and they enjoy walking along the nearby nature trails and wilderness areas.

“Gloria always kept things in check and kept me on track,” Phil says in disbelief, shaking his head at the catastrophic calamity that has befallen his family. “She was the one who was reasoned and even-handed with the kids. She never rushes to judgment or breezes past things. Gloria sees life, where most people just run through it. If she’s on skis, she won’t race down the mountain, but will stop and look at the trees and the animals, and even at the snow. We go to movies all the time. While the kids were growing up it was about Gloria being there to see them and raise them. We went to every school function, not just to be supportive but to be together. And now…” his voice trails off, “…this.”


Japan: 45 more cases linked to asbestos exposure

March 31, 2008

TOKYO, JAPAN: A further 45 people have been confirmed with health problems after exposure to asbestos from a former factory site in Ota Ward in Tokyo, the ward office said Saturday (29 Mar).

One man in his 70s died in October of pericardial mesothelioma–a form of cancer caused by exposure to asbestos–and seven other people developed health problems after inhaling asbestos, according to the ward office.

Read complete story here.


Travel tips for meso patients

March 28, 2008

Meso spouse Lois Schwarting has put together this excellent reference for traveling:

Travel tips for meso patients

Remember the point of your trip. If it’s for pleasure, plan to enjoy every minute of being in a different environment and get immersed in whatever is beautiful and new!

Request wheelchair assistance

When booking airline travel, request wheelchair assistance. Upon arrival at baggage check-in outside or inside the terminal, request wheelchair assistance to the gate of departure. The airport personnel will wheel the meso patient through the handicapped line of the TSA lines, but the passenger will have to get up out of the wheelchair and walk through the little “archway.” After being cleared, he will get back in the wheelchair to be pushed to departure gate. Even if the meso warrior is feeling quite good, the lines for security may be extremely long and cause undue fatigue and distress. Have the warrior wear slip-on shoes, as going through security they will still have to remove shoes and walk in sock feet!

Have your oncologist sign a form to take with you through security. I leave it in the same folder as our tickets and boarding passes. This will allow you to take some extra nourishment with you, and any meds that otherwise might be problematic. There’s a sample form that follows.

Nourishment

Airlines allow only certain sized containers and certain products through security. They tell you exactly the size, quantity, and type of items you must put in a one-quart Ziploc bag to go through security.

I always want to take more!! This is where the passenger health form comes in handy, and I point to them where it says he has undergone chemotherapy and to the doctor’s signature. It works wonders! Marty drinks one bottle of Boost per day, and I carry one bottle per day of our total trip with us. I put these bottles in a Ziploc gallon-size bag. I have also carried a “soft-pack” cooler which will hold a six-pack. In it I have some fresh fruit, salad, or sandwich with a small “cold pack” to keep food cold. When showing it to security on the conveyor, I tell them he is a terminal cancer patient and has undergone chemotherapy and his food requires special handling and that is what is in the cooler. Once on the other end of conveyor they have me open it up and look quickly. They have never had me rifle through and show exactly what is in there!

Good idea to take these things with you

CD of last CAT scan and written report of scan. If you need to take your warrior to an ER, these will be very handy. Go to the records department at your radiologist and request several days prior to travel. If you can’t get a CD ask for the actual films.

Pain medications: take some even if the warrior has not yet experienced pain.
Anti-nausea medications: just in case!

It’s best to check with your airline if the warrior is on oxygen, because they may have you follow a particular rule or complete their form and you want to be sure to comply. We are thankful that as yet we have had no requirement for this information. This form has been made up based on sections of one which we were required to complete for taking a cruise to Alaska in August 2007.

Passenger health
Name
Date

Illnesses or operations:

Mesothelioma

Current medications (list all):

Medicine allergies:

Equipment that the passenger will be bringing onboard (oxygen concentrator, wheelchair, walker, liquid oxygen, etc.):

Has the patient been hospitalized in the past year?

Is this patient medically fit to travel?

Comments:
(Medical information for emergency situation.)
(Note: Handwrite anything like below ) — fills up more space — make CHEMOTHERAPY stand out when writing!)
Thoracentesis/date
Thoracoscopy/date
Diagnosis from lab/date

Chemotherapy [Here you could write in “3-week interval cycles Alimta/cisplatin, dexamethasone, B12 shots] I handwrite date, doc’s name, address, and have the doctor sign.

Doctor’s information:

Signature_________ Date ______

Doctor’s Name _________________

Address _____________________

Telephone _____Fax ___


All-American Mom and home decorator puts meso in its place

March 25, 2008

Healthy, active, and always involved in a dozen different projects, Marilyn Stratton’s active lifestyle meant that she was accustomed to lots of physical activity without ever batting an eye.

As a career interior decorator, Marilyn was used to lifting boxes, carrying heavy samples of rugs, tiles, wallpaper, carpets, and countless catalogs that showcased the tools of her trade. Until the summer months of 2006, when she began experiencing pain in her chest, Marilyn had been healthy her whole life long.

Concerned that someone as fit and active as she would be suffering from chest pains, her husband insisted on a visit to the doctor. X-rays taken in early June revealed a build-up of fluid around her lung. Was this pneumonia? The doctor was concerned and insisted on a thoracentesis later that month at St. Vincent’s Hospital in Portland.

What began as a simple chest pain developed into news of the most horrific sort: pathology analysis of the fluid resulted in a diagnosis of malignant pleural mesothelioma.

Circling the wagons

On October, 16, 2006, her doctor performed a biopsy and talc pleurodesis. Like most people diagnosed with mesothelioma, Marilyn had to make a series of complex, rapid-fire decisions with her doctor about what next to do.

The difficulty with meso, of course, is that even the physicians who specialize in its treatment have different opinions on the best course of treatment. The disease is almost individualistic, requiring doctors to carefully weigh their options depending on staging, lymph-node involvement, age, co-morbidity factors, cellular type, and a host of other criteria. All of this must be done at utmost speed, because time is always the enemy.

Marilyn was referred to an oncologist in Portland who had her undergo four rounds of Alimta/cisplatin chemotherapy. Although this regimen is the only procedure approved by the FDA for treatment of mesothelioma, surgeons and oncologists recognize that the best survival outcomes are generally obtained by multimodal therapy that includes surgery as the bedrock treatment.

While she was undergoing chemo, Marilyn was referred to Dr. Eric Vallieres at the Swedish Cancer Institute in Seattle for a surgical consultation. One of the nation’s leading meso surgeons, after meeting with Marilyn Dr. Vallieres concluded that she was a candidate for the surgery. Marilyn decided to undergo an extra-pleural pneumonectomy (EPP) with Dr. Vallieres.

Girding for battle

In the work-up prior to surgery, it was discovered that Marilyn had a lump in her throat. On January 5, 2007, Dr. Vallieres performed a mediastinoscopy. Pathology analysis of the node was negative for malignancy. This was a huge relief to Marilyn, because the lymph nodes are the super-highway of the body, capable of instantly spreading cancerous cells to distant locations. Because the node was not malignant, the surgery could go forward as planned.

This major operation went extraordinarily well, owing in part to the skill of Dr. Vallieres and in part to the toughness and resiliency of Marilyn. She came through it with flying colors and was on the fast track for the day that every patients dreams of: a hospital discharge and ticket to go back home.

Aftershocks

One week after surgery, however, Marilyn got a lung infection and had to go back into the hospital for antibiotics to quell the infection. Having only one lung, any type of viral attack could be critical. From the end of January through the onset of radiation was when she felt the worst. She was weak, out of breath, and not feeling good for months. The combination of the infection and the inflammation had taken a toll early on in her recovery, but as a strong and tough fighter she finally she got beyond it.

One consequence of the EPP that has remained with Marilyn is chronic shortness of breath. She was admitted to Swedish Hospital in Seattle in March to determine the cause of the shortness of breath. As soon as the testing for the cause of her shortness of breath is completed, Marilyn is scheduled to begin a course of 30 radiation treatments that will be administered over a period of six weeks.

Calm waters

Marilyn had a December consultation with her pulmonologist and surgeon, as well as a CT scan, and the results were completely clear. Her next scheduled appointment is in April. As a result of the CT scan she’s been taken off all her medicines: heart medications, coumadin, Alimta/cisplatin, prednisone (steroid for post-surgery infection and inflammation in remaining lung, high dosage), prilosec, sulphasalazine (colitis—still taking), metotrolol (heart medication), warfarin (heart medication), magnesium because level had dropped post surgery (quickly regained normal rates), oxycodone (painkiller), and zofran (anti-nausea drug to combat side effect of steroid).

Dr. Vallieres is very optimistic and has been positive through the whole process. Even during the lung infection he said it was “just a bump in the road,” and is very pleased with the good health and strength of this courageous woman. The pulmonologist said that she would never completely get her breath back, but time would tell and significant improvement has always been a reasonable and very attainable goal. The radiologist said that she had every reason to be optimistic because it appeared that the chemotherapy did a very good job. Dr. Vallieres’s skillful hands seemed to have removed all of the gross tumor, and the radiation had “sterilized the area.”

Marilyn is constantly amazed at how an extremely busy surgeon like Dr. Vallieres seems to have all the time in the world for her when she’s in his office. “He’s so friendly and always gives me a hug. He’s very different from many of the other physicians with whom I’ve had to deal,” Marilyn says with a laugh.

Marilyn couldn’t be happier about the results of the CT scan and being “cancer clear.” Although she doesn’t feel 100% yet, she’s very pleased with her status. She’s feeling better and her friends tell her she looks wonderful.

Living with mesothelioma

Marilyn’s life has been night and day different since surgery. Before, she rarely sat down, was a workaholic, always healthy, and didn’t tire easily. Meso has pulled her former lifestyle up short. During these last few months Marilyn has led a totally different lifestyle. She used to walk five miles twice/weekly, and all her other activities and she worked full time.

Marilyn continues to amaze the doctors who treat her. She’s already made a habit of walking 1.25 miles, and her GP was astounded. To Marilyn the recovery has gone slowly but in perspective she thinks the recovery has been fast. She doesn’t have the strength for pulling fabric off shelves and putting them back up again, or for furniture delivery and hoisting large area rugs she used to carry by herself. On the other hand, she’s discovered that the world has no shortage of people who make a living doing these very things!

Her skills as a decorator have been showcased in three “Street of Dreams” homes and a number of “Showplace Homes” in the Portland area during her lengthy and respected career. At the spry and vigorous age of 73, Marilyn is still coping with the dent that meso has made in her active, productive, and fulfilling lifestyle prior to the onset of symptoms.

Marilyn and her husband Richard once kept active by going on walks together. Their favorite place was at downtown Portland’s waterfront. Now, she is out of breath after simply walking across the room. This has made getting around their multi-story home difficult and painstaking.

In recent years, Marilyn and Richard traveled the world together. Singapore, Bangkok, Canary Islands, New Zealand, Australia, and an annual trip to Mexico are just a few of the destinations they have enjoyed.

A loving mom and grandmother, Marilyn also enjoys spending time with her two daughters, Susan and Shari, both of whom live nearby. She also enjoys spending time with her five grandsons, three of whom are students at Oregon State University, of whom is serving in the U.S. Air Force, and one who is in high school. With courage and an indomitable will, Marilyn continues with great cheer and grace.