Treating Mesothelioma: A rare, aggressive cancer

Working For Your Health
Posted at 5:38 PM, Jun 07, 2017
and last updated 2017-06-08 06:37:58-04

For many people, a cure is impossible. Mesothelioma is an aggressive and deadly form of cancer.

But for one woman, she’s hoping to be the exception and she’s thanking one local hospital for helping her to reach that goal.

Kathy Ebright didn’t have any symptoms when she went in for her yearly cat-scan for a pre-existing condition.

“My vascular doctor notified my family doctor that he saw three little nodules and he thought perhaps we need a little checking out,” Ebright said.

A follow up test would confirm it was cancer.

In November of 2015, Ebright was diagnosed with mesothelioma. It’s a rare cancer almost always caused by exposure to asbestos.

“From what we've learned it probably had to do with my dad working. He worked at Harrisburg steel,” she said. 

Kathy’s from the small town of Richfield, Pennsylvania. Her local hospital wasn’t equipped to handle her case so she was sent the University of Maryland’s Marlene and Steward Greenebaum Comprehensive Cancer Center.

And that’s where she met Dr. Joseph Friedberg.

“He explained everything. I found that he was not only looking out for me but he understood that my family means a lot to me and he really I feel he was wonderful," Ebright said. 

“I’ll typically spend an hour to several hours trying to explain this cancer,” said professor of Surgery at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.Dr. Friedberg.

Dr. Friedberg is also the head of Thoracic Surgery at the University of Maryland Medical Center and says the extra time with patients is important because mesothelioma is rare, aggressive, and different than other cancers.

“You can’t cure anyone with surgery alone with mesothelioma because the cancer coats the entire lining of the chest cavity,” he said said.

Dr. Friedberg continues, “The standard of care treatment remains a combo of chemotherapy believe it or not that was established in 2003 and hasn't changed at least in this country, so its two drugs that are combined. And that typically extends life several months.”

Ebright wanted to get the ball rolling with her treatment, scheduling her surgery two months after her diagnosis.

“In her case we were able to offer her this lung sparing surgery. The simplest explanation is we take out the cancer and leave out the normal stuff,” Dr. Friedberg said. 

He said most patients spend about two weeks in the hospital. Ebright was out after nine days. Her treatment also included chemotherapy.

“That was a little rough,” Ebright said.

Ebright says knows how serious the disease is but with the support of her family and doctors she’s staying positive.

“We’re well aware there's no cure for mesothelioma but he's also told me that there's always that exception to the rule and I intend to be that exception,” Ebright said.

Dr. Friedberg said the survival rate for mesothelioma is typically a year from the time of diagnosis.
He says the most common presenting symptoms are shortness of breath, pain, and feeling full quickly.