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Longest Living Mesothelioma Survivor Still Defying the Odds after 20 Years

By Alex Strausspaulkraus

Paul Kraus had already proven himself to be a survivor by the time he was diagnosed with malignant mesothelioma in 1997.

Born in a Nazi labor camp in 1944, Paul survived a cross-country escape to Poland with his mother and older brother when he was just a few months old. Four years later, he survived the ocean voyage aboard a refugee ship to Australia where the family started a new life and where he has lived ever since.

Unfortunately, that emigration to one of world’s top producers of asbestos during the height of the mineral’s worldwide popularity probably also led to his unexpected diagnosis of mesothelioma almost 50 years later.

Understanding Malignant Mesothelioma

Mesothelioma is an extremely rare cancer, affecting fewer than 3,000 Americans each year and about 500 people in Australia. The most common form of mesothelioma, pleural mesothelioma, starts on the lining around the lungs (the pleura). As mesothelioma tumors grow and spread, this membrane thickens and hardens and fluid may fill the space between it and the lungs. The result is that patients find it more and more difficult to breathe and may experience cough and chest pain.

Peritoneal mesothelioma, the type with which Paul was diagnosed that fateful summer, is even rarer than the pleural variety and grows on the lining of the abdomen (the peritoneum). As tumors spread, the abdomen may become distended and the organs crowded. Fluid may also form around the lungs.

As it did in Paul’s case, mesothelioma often takes decades to develop. This period between asbestos exposure and the development of symptoms is known as the “latency period” and is one of the reasons that the so-called “asbestos cancer” can be so difficult to correctly diagnose. Once it is diagnosed, conventional cancer treatments usually do little to combat mesothelioma and many mesothelioma patients die within a year.

But as Paul Kraus’ case proves, there are notable exceptions. Paul was told he had fewer than six months to live because his mesothelioma had metastasized so extensively. Today, 20 years after that diagnosis, Paul is now the longest-living documented mesothelioma survivor in the world and the author of a popular book detailing his remarkable survival journey.

Where Does Mesothelioma Come From?

Mesothelioma is almost always caused by exposure to asbestos and Paul’s case was no exception. Like many other mesothelioma patients, Paul came in contact with asbestos in the factory where he worked during summer vacation as a young man.

On-the-job exposure to asbestos was especially common during the 1960s and 1970s when the heat-resistant mineral was a popular additive to building products from cement and floor tiles to insulation and shingles. For decades, much of the world looked to Australia for its asbestos, where it was still being mined and exported until the 1980s.

In fact, even when other countries had begun to curtail their asbestos use because of rising concerns about malignant mesothelioma, the Australian asbestos industry was still growing, employing thousands of people and creating huge amounts of deadly asbestos dust. As a result, the country now has the highest rate of mesothelioma and other asbestos-related cancers of any country outside of the UK.

Paul’s Survival Journey

Despite the odds, Paul Kraus refused to accept his dismal prognosis. Instead, with the help of his open-minded doctors, his supportive wife, and his unflagging survivor’s mindset, he completely overhauled his lifestyle, from his diet to his recreational habits. Although he is adamant about not foregoing conventional medical treatments, Paul also began consuming cancer-fighting fruits, vegetables, and herbs, exercising regularly, and meditating twice a day.

Even with radical changes in his life, Paul’s healing from mesothelioma took a number of years. Today, that healing and the changes that brought it about have become an inspiration to thousands of mesothelioma patients and their families. Paul’s mesothelioma survival strategy is the subject of “Surviving Mesothelioma and Other Cancers: A Patient’s Guide,” the best-selling book on malignant mesothelioma in the world.

Survival Strategies for Malignant Mesothelioma

Paul is just one example of a patient who overcame advanced mesothelioma through a willingness to look beyond standard cancer therapies. Today, many mesothelioma patients are finding hope in investigational drugs, experimental therapies, alternative medicine, and mind-body approaches.

The KEYNOTE trial of the immunotherapy drug pembrolizumab (Keytruda), which included 25 malignant pleural mesothelioma patients, found a 20 percent overall response rate and a median response duration of a year. Avelumab, another immunotherapy drug, produced a mesothelioma control rate of 56.6%. Studies are ongoing on these and a number of other immunotherapy drugs, making clinical trials an appealing option for many mesothelioma patients.

For patients who are candidates for mesothelioma surgery, treatment approaches that combine surgery with heated chemotherapy or radiation to kill residual cells have produced some encouraging survival results.

Other patients choose to take an alternative route, either as a stand-alone therapy or as a supplement to conventional treatments. A 2007 Harvard study found that THC, an active ingredient in cannabis oil from the marijuana plant, inhibits the migration of certain kinds of lung cancer cells. Four years later, a second Harvard study investigated the role of cannabinoid receptors in lung cancer cells and determined that cannabinoids can be used to treat lung cancer. Anecdotal evidence suggests they may do the same for mesothelioma.

Paul Kraus is a firm believer in the healing connection between the mind and the body and has been an avid meditator for years. Still unfailingly positive, Paul contends that, by driving him to focus more seriously on his own mental, physical, and spiritual well-being, his health challenges have enhanced his life and can do the same for anyone who chooses to embrace a similar survivor mentality. You can keep up to date with Mesothelioma News here on his site.

Disclaimer: The information provided in this article is for educational purposes only. It is not meant to diagnose or treat any health condition and is not a replacement for advice, recommendations or treatment by a professional health care provider. You should always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health professional before starting any new treatment or making any changes to an existing treatment. You should not delay in seeking or disregard medical advice based on information in this article.

If you or someone you know has been diagnosed, consider joining the Cancer Experience Registry to provide your voice and experience to the greater cancer community.

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Impact Club Conejo Valley honors Cancer Support Community VVSB with $5,500

Silvana and StaffCancer Support Community Valley/Ventura/Santa Barbara was honored with a check for $5500 by Impact Club Conejo Valley! We were represented by our participant, Silvana Zucca, who told her emotional journey of her son Madison and his battle with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma that began when he was just ten years old. Silvana credits CSC with giving her and her entire family the support they so desperately needed during Madison’s years of hospitalization and treatments. She is proud to say, Madison is cancer free and recently celebrated his 15th Birthday, and just received his drivers learning permit! Her younger son, Giovanni is 13 and still attends Kids Circle. Silvana said he wants to support other children who are going through what he experienced as a sibling watching an older brother go through treatment. Children develop tremendous compassion when they attend Kids Circle! Thank you so much to Impact Club Conejo Valley for helping us continue to provide all our programs for FREE, offering hope to people impacted by cancer.

Cancer Support Community VVSB and My Fairy Godfathers Team up to Provide Wigs for People Affected by Cancer

SAMSUNG CSCDiagnosed with stage three breast cancer two months ago, Karin Hochevar knows she’s going to lose her hair when she starts chemotherapy in a few weeks.

So when she heard about a wig giveaway at the Cancer Support Community in Thousand Oaks in which she could obtain beautiful blond locks that look similar to her own, she jumped at the chance.

“I’m very, very grateful because having cancer is very stressful. It’s a lot of bad news, bad news, bad news, and this is good news,” said Hochevar, a Newbury Park resident. “This is one of the hardest parts, losing my hair. It’s like, yuck, I don’t want to lose my hair.”

On April 5, Hochevar, 51, was among 20 people with cancer who received a free wig made with real hair. The value of the wig was $400.

The philanthropic effort was made possible by Steven Anderson and Andrew Ashton, the founders of My Fairy Godfathers, a nonprofit organization.

After being fitted for a wig on top of her real hair, Hochevar was so happy with the results she decided to wear the wig for the rest of the day.

“This is adorbs. Look at how cute this is, I just love it,” she said while inspecting her image in the mirror after the wig fitting. “I’m just shocked at how great this looks.”

Anderson and Ashton are business partners and owners of LaPosh Salon in Clearwater, Fla. For the past year, they have been giving away wigs to cancer patients throughout the United States.

“Andrew and I designed this collection of wigs for (model) Iman; that’s how we ended up with these,” Anderson said. “They’re handmade, and they take three days to make one wig. So you’ve got a nice quality hairpiece.”

Helping women who have lost their hair due to cancer has been very rewarding, Ashton said.

“We love it. We’re in the business of making people pretty and feel beautiful, so this is just a way we can do it,” Ashton said. “Most women that are going through this tend to not feel like they look good. That’s why we make them feel good.”

Such was the case for Andrea Caldwell, whose breast cancer has spread to her spine and liver. She arrived at the wig giveaway wearing a bandana to cover her hairless head.

“I’m on chemo right now, and I had my total hysterectomy about seven days ago,” said Caldwell, a 46-year-old Moorpark resident who heard about the wig giveaway from the American Cancer Society’s connection at St. John’s in Oxnard.

Caldwell was fitted by Anderson with a long blond wig with curls. After looking at herself in the mirror, she was stunned at how realistic the wig looked.

“You wouldn’t know it wasn’t my real hair,” Caldwell said. “I don’t like going out without hair. I had long hair so it’s disgusting for me not to have hair. I won’t have hair for another year and a half, so this is my only way to have it.”

A 50-year-old woman from Thousand Oaks received a short brown wig that she said looked very similar to her own hair before she lost it all to chemotherapy.

She asked to remain anonymous because “it happened too quickly, and I’m still dealing with the shock.”

She was diagnosed with cancer when she turned 50 and underwent a double mastectomy.

Now I’m getting chemo. It’s very hard to just deal with the fact that it happened,” she said. “I know there are good parts because it was detected early, but I lost my hair after the first chemo right away.”

After being fitted for her wig by Ashton, she said, “I feel normal. Some people don’t care if they have hair or not; they’ll go out in public and they’re really brave, but that’s not me.”

The Fairy Godfathers connected with the Cancer Support Community through Harriet Wasserman of Tarzana, whose daughter had breast cancer and received support from CWC in Thousand Oaks. Wasserman now serves on the nonprofit’s board of directors.

“Our mission at the Cancer Support Community is to provide free cancer support . . . and it just made sense to partner with My Fairy Godfathers,” said Denise Coulter, program assistant at the Cancer Support Community in Westlake Village.

“My Fairy Godfathers empowers women by providing them a welcome boost of confidence,” she said.

This story was originally printed in the Acorn. You can find the original article here.

What Can a Little Cancer Support Lead To?

Guest Blogger: Steve Hentzenprostate_blog

My name is Steve Hentzen, and when I was 46-year-old, as a single father of my son Joel, who is 13, I tried to go to a Boy Scout camp that required a medical release form. But my doctor insisted on doing a physical before signing it. Because of this, a life-saving PSA test was given. A PSA of 19 led to a biopsy, which discovered a Gleason score of 9, and I had to tell my son that I had prostate cancer.

After surgery found clean margins, I felt I could embrace my second chance at life, but Joel struggled with not believing his dad was okay. It was a tough year, but we marched on.

One year later, prior to a routine screening, I met with a pastor who had been thinking of us and had an idea that my doctor could put on a staged doctor’s appointment for Joel to explain to him that his dad was fine, and they hoped this would help alleviate Joel’s anxiety and help him move on. But then, my doctor called to tell me that Joel’s worries were confirmed because my cancer was back.

And, on that same day, a nurse handed me a flyer for a Cancer Support Community affiliate called Gilda’s Club of Kansas City.

I knew that we couldn’t go through this journey again alone and turned to Gilda’s Club Kansas City, where Joel ended up being one of the first kids they ever helped. During my daily radiation treatments for 8 weeks, Joel and I leaned on Gilda’s Club. Eventually, we got the news that the treatment was successful!

During my time at Gilda’s Club, I met other prostate cancer survivors which sparked the idea that we needed a place for others facing prostate cancer to meet, which Gilda’s Club provided. Thanks to the momentum of Prostate Cancer Awareness Day and meeting with fellow prostate cancer survivors, Caeser Blevins, Mike Mulcahy, and Sali Katz, we were able to start the Prostate Network. This is a survivor-led, volunteer-powered, not-for-profit, impassioned support group focused on helping men deal with issues related to prostate cancer.

In the fall of 2016, we discovered there was a complimentary organization, ZERO The End of Prostate Cancer, which champions strategic alliances with national and local organizations and politicians to protect critical government funds for prostate cancer research. Mulcahy, Blevins, and I participated in a run/walk to support ZERO in Kansas City, which led to our attendance at the 2017 ZERO Patient Summit. We hope to continue helping ZERO Cancer raise funds for research programs, and when I saw a sign for the Cancer Support Community at the summit, I recalled how my advocacy for prostate cancer started at Gilda’s Club Kansas City, an affiliate of the Cancer Support Community.

ASK THE EXPERT – Signs of a hereditary breast-ovarian cancer syndrome in a family by Amy Yoffe

Amy YoffeeWhen you think about your family’s medical history, do you notice any patterns of cancer?  Perhaps you’ve heard stories about a great-grandmother who passed away from breast cancer at only 35 years old.  Or you recall hearing stories about your grandmother being diagnosed with ovarian cancer.  You’re certain that both of your grandmother’s sisters died of ovarian cancer in their 70’s and that their brother, whom you’ve never met, battled stomach cancer.  As you start to put these pieces together, you might wonder if this is a pattern that could one day impact your own health…

Signs of a hereditary breast-ovarian cancer syndrome in a family include, but are not limited to, any family member with:

  • Ovarian cancer at any age
  • Breast cancer at age 50 or younger
  • Breast cancer in both breasts at any age
  • Both breast and ovarian cancer
  • Male breast cancer
  • Ashkenazi Jewish heritage and breast cancer at any age

More than one relative on the same side of the family with any of these cancers:

  • Breast cancer
  • Ovarian cancer
  • Prostate cancer
  • Pancreatic cancer
  • Melanoma

When patients are concerned that they might be at high risk for hereditary breast -ovarian cancer syndrome, the best first step is to meet with a Genetic Counselor who can help determine the need for genetic testing.

Individuals who are faced with having a genetic mutation, might feel confused and overwhelmed as they work to process what this means.  They may need education and support while trying to understand the range of options available.  FORCE (Facing Our Risk of Cancer Empowered) is the only National Organization dedicated to improving the lives of those affected by Hereditary Breast and Ovarian Cancer.  FORCE offers quarterly support meetings which provide an opportunity to meet others who know what you’re going through, to ask questions, learn or just listen in a safe and supportive environment.

Amy Yoffe, LCSW is a Peer Support Group Leader for the West Valley/Ventura Chapter of FORCE, and a BRCA1+ Previvor.

Next Upcoming Support Meeting:  Sunday, May 7th from 10:30am-2:00pm.