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Mesothelioma Survivor Stories: Marlyn


Marlyn Landin lives in Maryland with her husband, who is retired from the Air Force. As a long time military wife, Marlyn Landin got “used to sitting back and being patient, and waiting for necessary information to be provided”. That ‘training’ was tested in the spring of 2000 when she went to her family doctor complaining of what felt like a pulled muscle in her back, near her right shoulder. Within days, that seemingly innocuous complaint would see her waiting for information on how she might save her life.

Marlyn was used to doctors focusing their attention on her chest and lungs, since she’d had several incidents of spontaneous pneumothorax (collapsed lung). When her doctor ordered a chest x-ray, it wasn’t particularly alarming. It was when she was told she needed a C-T scan to check out something in her right lung, the first prickles of concern began. It was Marlyn’s left lung that had always been the problem.

Marlyn waited for the results, and the information came, but it was incomplete: the C-T scan showed a tumor, but exactly what type was unknown. It seemed localized, but also fast growing. A biopsy was needed to determine the next steps, and was arranged at the Naval Medical Center in Bethesda within a week’s time. Three weeks later, Marlyn received the rest of the information she had been waiting for. With her family out in the waiting room, her doctor told her the diagnosis: pleural mesothelioma. The doctor then called Marlyn’s husband into the room, providing him with additional data. “Your wife’s cancer has about a 6-month prognosis” he said.

Once more, Marlyn’s waiting ability was tested while the doctors at the Naval Medical Center reviewed her case. The tumor was large, and it was attached to the bone – that’s probably why she had been having pain as her primary symptom. No one at the Medical Center felt they knew what to do, and they conferred as to who might be qualified to give Marlyn some options to fight her cancer. After two more weeks of waiting, she was referred to Dr. Valerie Rusch in New York.

From the moment she met her, Marlyn had confidence in Dr. Rusch. She was direct about what she felt needed to be done, and recommended Marlyn’s oncologist start her immediately on a heavy course of gemcitabine and cisplatin. Within 24 hours after the first chemo session, Marlyn began having ringing in her ears. She was hospitalized and hydrated, and her next chemo dose was reduced. She tolerated the lower dose better, but by the third session, Marlyn again became dehydrated, and her blood counts fell significantly. Happily though, the few chemo treatments had done the trick – her tumor had responded dramatically. Three weeks later, on September 15, 2000, Dr. Rusch operated. The tumor was completely removed, along with five upper ribs and a portion of her right lung and pleural membranes.

Marlyn was 47 years old, and had been a hair stylist for 25 years. Now, eight years later, she finds her life altered, but still sweet. She can no longer work as a stylist, and “can’t bound up and down the stairs anymore.” She’s got a touch of joint pain and some chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), but that doesn’t stop her from traveling with her husband or daily watching her three grandsons. Her meso has not needed any further treatment.

Marlyn’s family has been no stranger to occupational diseases or to cancer, and she knows that when faced with a serious illness, anger, regret and despair are not ‘good medicine’. She relied on the strength of her family, her friends, and her faith. Her personal network went into action to support her, setting up prayer groups around the world. And when the chemo made her feel her sickest, her oldest grandson would pat her back and assure her that it would be all right - his “mom-mom” would get better.

Marlyn gives thanks for each new day, and credits her survival to her doctors’ good decisions, especially their prompt referral to a meso expert. She advises fellow patients to “never give up – believe in yourself, your faith, and your ability to beat meso.”

Marlyn is always finding ways to extend her network of friends and pass on encouragement to others. She annually attends the Meso Foundation’s International Symposium on Malignant Mesothelioma, where she always finds a host of kindred spirits and fellow warriors and reconnects with old friends. She stays in contact with the people she meets via email and Facebook.