In a rare case of treatment proving effective against malignant mesothelioma , Heather Von St. James of Minneapolis seems to be winning the battle of her life. Two and a half years ago, Von St. James was found to have a malignant tumor in her lung. Diagnosed with mesothelioma, a surgical treatment route was sought. After undergoing a procedure to remove her left lung, the lining around her heart, half of her diaphragm, her sixth rib and a few lymph nodes to be on the safe side, the cancer can no longer be found. While Von St. James claims that she is free of cancer, her doctor, Dr. David Sugarbaker of the International Mesothelioma Program at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, remains skeptical. A mesothelioma diagnosis is often a death sentence with the end coming rapidly in just 12 to 18 months after diagnosis.
The success seen in Von St. James’ treatment makes doctors more optimistic about future possible surgical cures for the disease. Despite intense research efforts, radiation and chemotherapy treatments for mesothelioma have not proven effective as other than palliative care. The surgical option pursued by Von St. James, though radical, might be the most effective choice available for mesothelioma sufferers. Mesothelioma is a lung cancer that is almost always caused by exposure to asbestos. Pinpointing the precise source can be difficult since it may be decades after exposure before a person develops the disease. In Von St. James’ case, she is certain that she was exposed to asbestos dust on her father’s work clothes. Since her father had been a construction worker with Ainsworth-Benning, Von St. James decided to sue the company in 2006 in the state of Minnesota. However, the suit has been rejected in the courts because they do not have sufficient connections in Minnesota.