Starting Over

After a diagnosis of pleural mesothelioma upturned my life and career, I am now learning to adjust to life as a cancer survivor.

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Sally Teahan

Although I have asked my thoracic surgeon for a prognosis, he said that, unlike a carton of milk, I don’t have an ‘expiration date,’ and that was comforting to hear.

—Sally Teahan

My diagnosis of pleural mesothelioma early in 2015 couldn’t have been more surprising. In one day, I went from being a healthy, vibrant woman with a busy career and the excitement of launching a promising new business venture to a woman facing the greatest challenge of her life. The fact that my only symptom was shortness of breath, which came on suddenly and was originally diagnosed as being caused by pneumonia, made the news that I had cancer especially difficult to hear. And getting to the correct diagnosis was such an arduous process that it made the experience even more difficult to cope with.

Getting the Diagnosis

Soon after my symptom appeared, I saw my primary care physician, who ordered a chest x-ray. The test showed fluid buildup in my lungs, but it wasn’t until 2 L of fluid were drained from my pleura that a pulmonologist to whom I had been referred had spotted a mass on my lower left lung.

A biopsy of the pleural tissue showed that I had pleural mesothelioma, and a second biopsy was performed to confirm the diagnosis. I then was sent out of state for biopsies of several surrounding lymph nodes and tissue to determine whether the cancer had spread and the stage of the tumor. Although I was never given a disease stage, I was told that the cancer had been caught early and that it was confined to the lower part of my left lung, which was a relief.

Emotional and Physical Impact

Still, even now, 9 months after my diagnosis, the aftermath of having cancer and its treatment has been difficult to manage emotionally and physically. I had surgery to remove half of my diaphragm, the pleura, part of my pericardium, and a lower rib, which left me with unrelenting pain for months.

Then I underwent four rounds of a combination regimen of pemetrexed (Alimta) and cisplatin to kill any remaining errant malignant cells. I’m hoping now that my treatment has been completed, I’m cured of my cancer, but I know there is a chance it will recur in the future, and I’m learning to live with that fact.

The Unpredictability of Life

Although I have asked my thoracic surgeon for a prognosis, he said that, unlike a carton of milk, I don’t have an “expiration date,” and that was comforting to hear. Because the mesothelioma was caught early and the treatment was aggressive, he said he is confident that I have the best chance possible of living a long life, and I am monitored closely for signs of recurrence. So far, I remain cancer-free.

Surviving cancer has taught me many lessons, including how unpredictable life is and the folly of taking anything for granted. It has also renewed my appreciation for the love of family and friends, and I am especially grateful to all the members of my community who bolstered my spirits with offers of prayers. Their good thoughts and well wishes have given me a new appreciation of the generosity of strangers and made me resolve to return that generosity to others I meet who may need an act of kindness during a difficult time.

A New Normal

Although I’m still recovering from the emotional and physical shock of having cancer, I’m starting to move on with my life and career. When I was first diagnosed, I had just launched a new business, which had to be put on hold while I received treatment. Now that that part of my cancer experience is behind me, I’m starting to proceed with my business plans.

When you have cancer, you become permanently tagged with the word “survivor.” But all I want is to have my normal life back, whatever that means now. ■

Sally Teahan is an event and wedding planner and lives in Lenexa, Kansas.


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