Pleural mesothelioma survivor focuses on love of travel

    Stories from the survivors

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    Patricia Stevens has traveled through 47 states and 63 countries, covering five continents in her lifetime – and she’s not done yet.

    Her treasures of memories will continue to grow, despite her pleural mesothelioma. The last three countries and the last two continents are still on the horizon. She can hear them tempt them.

    “I think you could call it my late-in-life goal, to see it all,” Stevens said. “With travel you experience things, and learn things that can never be taken.”

    Stevens, 76, a mesothelioma survivor and a lifelong domicile in Huntsville, Alabama, was swept away by his passion for travel in 2021 by being diagnosed with this untreated cancer.

    Her treatment began in March 2021 with chemotherapy, followed by a pleurectomy and exfoliation surgery in August. I recovered faster than the doctors expected.

    Stevens has reinvigorated a lifestyle that includes a road map of the world. She just doesn’t sit well.

    “I know this cancer, or any other type of cancer, is going to come back at some point and raise its ugly head,” said Stevens. “But I have nothing to complain about. I’ve been lucky, lucky. And I’m grateful. I feel good now.”

    The cities of Alaska, Oregon, and North Dakota are on the calendar for the coming months. They will complete her wish list by visiting all 50 states. Australia and Antarctica – the two remaining continents – are not far behind.

    “I learned a long time ago, that you can lose everything – your home, your money, your health – but that travel experience, it never goes away,” she said. “You always have. That’s why I love him.”

    Survivor Patricia Stevens with her granddaughters

    Mesothelioma survivor Patricia Stevens with her granddaughters Tisha and Till.

    Family genetic predisposition to cancer

    Although pleural mesothelioma is rare, Stevens’ diagnosis in 2021 was not a complete surprise despite no apparent exposure to asbestos, the most common cause of mesothelioma.

    Her mother died of mesothelioma nearly 30 years ago in Huntsville. A first cousin died of mesothelioma a decade later.

    Stevens battled a rare form of liver cancer in 2010. Her eldest daughter died in 2021 of leiomyosarcoma, a rare cancer, just days after Stevens’ mesothelioma surgery.

    It was all traced back to the inherited mutation in the BAP1 gene, which gives them a genetic predisposition to these rare cancers. Research has shown that the BAP1 mutation is found in an estimated 70% of mesothelioma patients.

    The BAP1 gene acts as a tumor suppressor most often. A BAP1 mutation makes the cancer more likely to survive.

    However, knowledge of her mutation led to regular testing and an earlier-than-usual diagnosis of mesothelioma for Stevens, which made treatment more effective and may prolong her survival.

    Finding the Right Mesothelioma Specialist

    Stevens was also lucky to find thoracic surgeon Dr. Marcelo DaSilva, a mesothelioma specialist and medical director at AdventHealth Cancer Institute in Orlando.

    DaSilva was trained by legendary surgeon Dr. David Sugarbaker at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.

    DaSilva’s expertise was fundamental to Stevens’ physical and mental well-being.

    “I knew right away that I had come to the right place for treatment. He came to the exam room the first time, and there was this being around.” You knew he would take care of this. She almost felt like it was God’s will, when she came to see Dr. DaSilva. It gave me confidence that everything would be fine.”

    Survivor Patricia Stevens on a boat

    Patricia Stevens has traveled the world and plans to continue, despite being diagnosed with mesothelioma.

    Back to daily routine

    Stevens’ recovery after surgery was faster than usual. Once back in Huntsville, she was attending a church Bible study by September and playing cards again with friends in October. She was back in exercise by November.

    In December, she drove an eight-hour drive alone from her home in Huntsville to the beach in Destin, Florida. In January, she and her sister attended live theater productions in New York City.

    “I’m in a good place [mentally] Stevens said. “I know the cancer will come back, but I don’t allow myself to be depressed. You can’t have one of those ‘poor me’ situations. I’m lucky to have the resources to take care of things.”

    Stevens spent 20 years running her wholesale flower business in Huntsville before retiring. Her husband, who died 15 years ago, had a chevron distributor.

    Survivor family comes first

    When Stevens started chemotherapy, her oldest daughter, who had advanced cancer, was already being treated in New York City. When her daughter came to AdventHealth for end-of-life palliative care, she allowed them to spend precious time together.

    Stevens twice postponed the surgery to remain active in her daughter’s life because she refused.

    “Despite having been a horrific year with my diagnosis, and the death of my daughter, I learned a lot. There were some great moments that I wouldn’t trade for anything,” she said. “Her time was short, but they took care of my daughter beautifully. It is something I will always remember.”

    Stevens is determined to help others by sharing her story of a genetic predisposition, hoping to give mesothelioma patients a better chance of surviving longer.

    “You are not on this earth alone. Embrace your family. Belonging is the first thing in life. It is the greatest thing that has ever happened to me,” she said. “If you don’t have a family, reach out to others. Knock on your neighbor’s door. Go to church, share. Try not to feel sorry for yourself.”

    Survivor Patricia Stevens practicing goat yoga

    Eager to maintain a positive attitude, Patricia Stevens strives to do fun things, like doing baby goat yoga at Orlando’s wildflower farms.

    Staying Positive After a Mesothelioma Diagnosis

    Stevens communicates regularly with her five grandchildren, who joined her on trips before her latest diagnosis. Hopes to convey the love and benefits of travel. They will likely accompany her again when travel resumes.

    She still looks for fun things to do, even when she doesn’t feel right. While in Orlando for a medical exam, she went to nearby Wildflower Farms to see baby goat yoga. Stevens fell to her knees and played with the animals. It made her feel young again.

    “I’ve been very fortunate,” she said. “I made some mistakes along the way, I had some hard times, but everyone has bad days. I am sure I will have some hard things ahead of me. You just have to remember the good things.”

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