Advocate of the Month – November 2012: Surviving and Thriving logo

The Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance would like to take a moment to thank Tina Melford, the Advocate of the Month for November. Tina has been incredibly active and visible in our Facebook community and continues to help spread the message of the MCA, while lending her support and knowledge to others affected by cancer. Below is an interview with Tina about how Mesothelioma affected her way of life and why she continues to spread the message of MCA.

My husband Jeffrey Melford, my best friend, my daughter’s father, was diagnosed with malignant mesothelioma on December 23, 2010. It was devastating! In 1998 and 2006 his stepfather and his father passed away from mesothelioma, respectively. We also knew of other families in our community who had passed away from mesothelioma. When Jeff was diagnosed, we never knew one person who was a survivor. His stepdad only made it 6 months after his diagnosis. His father made it about 17 months with chemotherapy. We had to dig deep in our faith to find hope and believe we were going to get more time.

MCA: Has cancer affected you in some way? If so, in what way? Tell us about your experience.

Tina Melford: Early November 2010, Jeff started with a dry cough. I told him to go get it checked. He said it’s not productive, just a dry cough. A few weeks later, he showed me that he would cough uncontrollable when he would lie on his left side. I told him that he needed to go to the doctor and get it checked thinking it was walking pneumonia. He went to his primary care doctor, who checked his lungs and took a lot of x-rays. He said it was abnormal and that there was fluid in his lungs. He then sent him to see a pulmonologist and get a CT scan. On Nov. 18th, which is my birthday, we went to the pulmonologist. We had only told my daughter he was getting checked for his cough. He read the CT scan and said that there was fluid but there weren’t any tumors. A little more then a pint of fluid came out of Jeff’s left lung. A few days later we were told that it was malignant! They then scheduled a pet scan. The results came back clear of tumors again! He needed more fluid removed and a biopsy from lung. During this time we really weren’t sharing much with anyone. We wanted the results to be a mistake.

They did the biopsy and we waited for the results. They told us they wouldn’t know until after Christmas. Two days before Christmas they called us in. We prayed and thought it was going to be good news. Well, we were told it was malignant mesothelioma and he probably won’t see next Christmas! We were in shock. It was devastating. How do we get through Christmas and how do we tell our daughter and family. We talked, we prayed, and comforted each other. We agreed we would tell everyone after Christmas. We slowly told everyone days following Christmas.

We did research after being told that there wasn’t much hope. Through research and Dr. Henry Jackson, we found Dr. David Sugarbaker. Dr. Jackson has been such a blessing to us! There are so very few cancer centers that can treat mesothelioma successfully. Most people are told that they can make you feel comfortable and to get your affairs in order. We are thankful to have been given the opportunity to get to Boston. It means lots of traveling, expenses, and inconveniences. But we are willing to do what ever we have to.

Jeff had the extrapleural pneumonectomy, or EPP, surgery done by Dr. Sugarbaker on March 31, 2011. This is such a huge surgery! We were told what to expect, but until you experience it you just don’t know. He had a complication, which meant another surgery called thoracic duct embolization on April 12th. We had to stay in Boston through recovery for 6 wks. Once we got home, Jeff still had chemo to do. On his 3rd chemo, his immune system went to zero. He had to be admitted to the hospital and given blood and antibiotics and he was sent home with antibiotic pills. The next weekend, when Jeff was taking one of his last pills he choked and aspirated on the pill. It got stuck in his only lung blocking two thirds of his airway. He had to have surgery to remove it, which postponed his last chemo treatment by two weeks.

At this time Jeff is doing great! I want to keep my best friend, husband, and father of my daughter around for many more years. Jeff’s next scan is November 13th. Praying and believing for good results!

MCA: How has this shaped you as the person you are today?

Tina: This has made me realize you really don’t know what you future holds. Things can change in your life in the blink of an eye! We are trying, as a family, to appreciate all things in life. Before this, I feel we took much more for granted. I look back and think that I even surprised myself on how I found the strength to get through some of those days during Jeff’s recovery. I think about the sleepless nights trying to help him stay comfortable and get rest. My faith has played such a big part in this for me. I have always been a softhearted person but the respect I have for people who have to endure cancer or take care of a love one with cancer or any disease is so much more!

MCA: If you were affected by cancer, what are the biggest things you learned through this experience?

Tina: I have learned that you need to take one day at a time. Stressing about what may happen tomorrow won’t help. I know it is easier said than done but you really need to try to keep yourself in-check. Do your research; make sure you are seeking a doctor that is knowledgeable about your disease. The doctor having confidence about what he knows gives you assurance and helps keep you at ease.

MCA: What was your motivation to become the MCA Advocate of the Month?

Tina: No words could explain how much the support staff at Brigham’s and Women’s Hospital meant to me! This is such an honor to be able to share our story and let someone else know they are not alone, that there are some patients that get more productive time with their family. I feel that Jeff doing well and he is giving hope for others. I hope that our story will give hope for someone else!

MCA: If you could say one thing to the world about cancer or mesothelioma specifically, what would it be?

Tina: No one deserves to have this terrible disease! We need to make sure that they stop using asbestos and that they do not use this products ever again. It’s so sad that the jobs that my husband was working to support his family is the cause of his mesothelioma! It breaks my heart to know that they could have stopped using this product long ago and so many people would have not had to suffer or deal with this.

MCA: Is there anything else you would like to say to the MCA community?

Tina: I believe Jeff’s positive attitude, our faith, and the support from family and friends have played such a big roll in our walk through this journey. The support from the MCA community means a lot. I believe each of us telling our story and helping each other get to the next step in our journey is so important.