Sarah Costa was nine years old when her father, Emanuel Costa, was diagnosed with stage 4 peritoneal mesothelioma in October 2007. Emanuel was 35 years old at the time. Sarah’s mother, Gina, quit her job and became a full-time caregiver for him. Despite such changes in their family, Gina and Emanuel kept things as normal as possible for Sarah and her five-year-old brother.
“When we were kids, for about two years, we never really knew what was happening,” Sarah recently told Mesothelioma.com. “It was pushed to the side and hidden for some time to make it seem like it wasn’t so serious and to keep us strong for our dad. We were never negative and always did the things we would usually do, like go on vacation, play outside and go out as a family.”
“My mom was the only one who really knew what was going on,” Sarah continued. “After some time, I caught on. I just brushed it over the best I could to hide the pain of thinking something could go wrong. But as the years went by, that’s when all the emotions came in.”
Coping with the Diagnosis and Treatment
With such advanced disease, Sarah’s father was initially given a prognosis of six months. Doctors treated him with multiple rounds of chemotherapy, and Emanuel was eventually eligible for a debulking surgery to remove tumors. However, the mesothelioma continued to spread, and the side effects of the treatments took their toll on Emanuel and the entire family.
“My life changed a lot and quickly once the situation started to get worse,” Sarah recalled. “Being in the hospital every day after school to see my father in bed, getting skinnier, losing his hair and not being able to walk on his own still gives me flashbacks today.”
As her dad’s mesothelioma cancer progressed, Sarah also remembers life at home changing.
“At home, it wasn’t the same…it was dark, there was no conversation and people would start to ‘feel bad for us’ when they would come and see us. When we would be around people, they would cry,” Sarah said.
As Emanuel’s condition worsened, Sarah and her brother started overhearing conversations between friends and family that would visit. Sarah remembers hearing anecdotes of horrible moments that had happened overnight at the hospital. Visitors would also talk about the consequences and risks of his treatment, making Sarah and her brother nervous about what would come.
The diagnosis and treatment were tough on the family, and Sarah said it was especially difficult because of how it impacted her “indescribable” relationship with her dad.
“I was always closest to my dad, always interested in the different things he would teach me throughout my childhood. I could remember being outside and watching him build a deck for our pool from scratch and even a jeep he customized on his own.”
Mixed in with the good times they had together, Sarah can vividly remember the difficulties throughout the years following her dad’s diagnosis and treatment. The chemotherapy, in particular, led to a lot of side effects. Emanuel experienced medically-induced deafness and developed hives from a high dose of cisplatin. When the doctors changed his treatment, Emanuel regained some hearing, but still suffered from other treatment and mesothelioma-related side effects.
“I still remember the timeline of him suffering, but the one thing I’ll remember is how strong he was and that’s one thing that stuck with me till today. The pain and suffering he went through to show us to never give up is hard to do.”
Sarah continued, “I remember the last time we ate as a family. When my mom brought my dad home from the hospital, it was tough. She made pancakes, and he was using an electric chair because he couldn’t walk and also was paralyzed on his arm. But he still tried to eat his pancakes with us because he never gave up. It was frustrating for him and us because we all knew how he was before.”
Life After Losing Her Dad
Emanuel Costa survived four and a half years with peritoneal mesothelioma, despite an initial prognosis of six months. Though the family got more time with him, it didn’t make the painful loss any easier.
“When we were told our father passed away, we knew it was coming, but never did I actually realize it would happen. I still remember us sitting in our living room and our grandmother telling us ‘he’s in a good place,’ but it didn’t click at first,” Sarah said.
As the family began to grieve and process his death, it was still very difficult to move forward.
“Losing my dad is the worst thing anyone can experience. For years, my mom was in a severe depression, which left us in fear of what comes next. It was a very dark place,” Sarah recalled. “It wasn’t like having a family. It felt broken.”
In the years since his passing, Sarah and her family have focused on finding the positive in their experience by raising awareness for asbestos and mesothelioma. Sarah wants others impacted by the rare cancer to know they’re not alone.
“In the future, I’d love to help others with advice or creating a place people can just come to relax, paint, color, read and just air out their thoughts. When I was going through this, I never shared any thought or pain to my family or friends, but today it’s catching up to me.”
Sarah hopes her experience can help others watching their loved ones go through a similar diagnosis. Even though it’s hard, Sarah believes staying strong and focusing on one’s mental and emotional wellbeing can make all the difference when facing a rare cancer.
Sarah advised, “Just be by their side and show them it’s not over. Do activities with them and share as much time as possible with them. Do things that will make them smile and remember it’s normal to fear, be in pain and be negative sometimes. But something I learned is you must talk and share your emotions. Don’t keep everything inside. It’s ok to talk to your friends and family.”
As she continues to honor her dad by raising awareness and helping others, Sarah always remembers the advice Emanuel gave her.
“I’d always listen to things he would teach me: trust your heart, never give up, be strong and always keep your head up high. Today, I’m the way I am because of the things my dad taught me.”