5-year mesothelioma survivor motivated by family

Stories of Survivors

reading time: 6 minutes

Release date: 08.12.2022

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To cite the Asbestos.com article

APA

Povtak, T. (2022, December 8). 5-year mesothelioma survivor motivated by family. asbestos.com. Retrieved December 8, 2022 from https://www.asbestos.com/blog/2022/12/08/pleural-mesothelioma-survivor-family/

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MLA

Povtak, Tim. “5-year mesothelioma survivor motivated by family.” asbestos.comDec 8, 2022, https://www.asbestos.com/blog/2022/12/08/pleural-mesothelioma-survivor-family/.

Chicago

Povtak, Tim. “5-year mesothelioma survivor motivated by family.” asbestos.com. Last modified December 8, 2022. https://www.asbestos.com/blog/2022/12/08/pleural-mesothelioma-survivor-family/.

As a mesothelioma survivor, Albert Schwartz has already beat all odds. He’s lived longer than expected, but he has good reason to want more.

The incentive is there.

Her name is Olivia, the adorable 10-year-old daughter of his wife Rebecca, whom he married in 2017 just two weeks after he was diagnosed with pleural mesothelioma.

“She’s so precious, probably the biggest inspiration for me to stay alive this long,” Schwartz said. “I love her with all my heart. I want to see her go through stages in life. I don’t want to miss her going to prom, her celebration dances at school, her first driving lesson and everything else as she gets older. She calls me daddy .She keeps me going.”

Olivia was 13 months old when her father died. She was only 2 when Schwartz met her mother. Since then, the three have been inseparable.

She motivates him daily and gives him the strength to endure the painful uncertainty he is exposed to. She also brings him unbridled joy.

“I’ve learned the importance of having great people around you when dealing with something like this,” Schwartz said. “I would tell someone who has just been diagnosed that you need to stick with what works for you. It gives you a reason to fight. And mesothelioma is a struggle. It’s a struggle with what you have to go through.”

Mesothelioma treatment takes its toll

Mesothelioma is a rare cancer with no cure. Schwartz, 66, recently passed the five-year mesothelioma survival mark, which is estimated at only 10% of pleural mesothelioma patients.

He first underwent aggressive pleurectomy and debarking surgery at the University of Maryland Greenebaum Cancer Center. The operation lasted 10 hours and nearly killed him. He suffered cardiac arrest twice.

After the operation, Schwartz spent almost two weeks in the intensive care unit and was often delirious when he took the ventilator off. His eventual recovery surprised even his thoracic surgeon, mesothelioma specialist Dr. Joseph Friedberg.

“It was a nightmarish time for me, I was hallucinating the whole time. I couldn’t breathe when I was conscious. I thought they wanted to kill me,” Schwartz said. “I remember telling my wife and brother who were there to get me from the hospital. And it haunted me for a few years after that.”

His surgery was followed by six rounds of chemotherapy, which was initially tolerable, but the side effects became painfully more severe as the treatment progressed. For two years, however, Schwartz was relatively cancer-free. He resumed his life, playing golf, fishing and enjoying family.

Ron and Al Schwartz undergo chemotherapy

Mesothelioma survivor Albert Schwartz (right) and his brother Ron undergo chemotherapy treatment together.

Brothers share chemo experience

By the end of 2019, scans showed that the mesothelioma tumors had returned and spread aggressively to both of Schwartz’s lungs, prompting four more rounds of chemotherapy. Only this time he had company at the cancer center.

His brother Ron Schwartz had just been diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. For three months, they planned their chemotherapy infusions together in nearby Gainesville, Virginia.

Although they have always been close, only two years apart, in the last three years they have become closer than ever and leaned heavily on each other.

“Having your brother share this experience with you is quite epic,” Schwartz said. “Our side effects were sometimes different, but we also shared some. Chemotherapy is a strange thing to describe to people who have never experienced it. Sometimes you just don’t feel right, but it’s hard to always pinpoint exactly why. Your body just gets freaked out. My brother was the only one who could identify with me and my feelings. It took our relationship to another level.”

The two spent a great deal of time together, including occasional weekends at Ron Schwartz’s second home in the riverside town of New Bern, North Carolina. They chat for hours now, swapping stories and reliving memories from decades past. Schwartz’s brother is doing well today, with a positive long-term perspective.

Immunotherapy aims at tumor recurrence

After ending his last maintenance program in early 2022, new tumor patches reappeared on Schwartz’s left lung. The chemotherapy was no longer effective.

He recently started his latest mesothelioma treatment regimen, the Opdivo and Yervoy combination immunotherapy, which was recently approved by the US Food and Drug Administration and has worked well in a small percentage of mesothelioma patients. His next scan will be in early 2023.

“I’m excited to see what immunotherapy will do for me,” he said. “With mesothelioma and many types of cancer, you are running out of treatment options. I’ve been lucky so far. I was eligible for surgery, which most people are not. The chemotherapy was effective, which is not the case for many people. And when the cancer returned, it was effective again for a short time. Let’s see how that goes now.”

Al Schwartz and family on the beach

Albert Schwartz credits his family for helping him through his mesothelioma treatment.

The family remains his motivation

Despite all the pain he endured in that battle with mesothelioma, Schwartz points to an incident at his kitchen table as the worst of his journey, a clue to what drives him today.

It was nearing the end of chemotherapy with serious side effects. He, Olivia and Rebecca had just finished dinner and his coughing was getting worse.

As he pushed himself away from the table, he suddenly vomited across the room, leaving Olivia with a lasting memory that haunts them both today and deeply troubles him.

“It traumatized my little daughter who I love so much. Of all the pain I’ve been through over the past five years, what hurts me the most is that now, several years later, when I start coughing loudly, that memory comes back and she runs for cover, like a slingshot, out of the room, he said. “And that really sticks with me because I always want to be there for her.”

Last summer, Schwartz had the privilege of having the first dance with the bride at his older daughter’s wedding, an event he was delighted to attend.

“There are things I can still do, but many things I can no longer do. Fatigue keeps me from doing much now,” he said. “My mind wants to do things, but my body can’t. There is numbness, still pain associated with the operation. My advice to anyone diagnosed is to find a reason to fight and live to keep you going.

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