As an extremely active 75-year old, Gary Glouner was in excellent health when he was diagnosed with mesothelioma in September 2009. That might explain why it was so challenging for Gary to receive a definitive diagnosis. "I rode my bicycle every day," shared Gary.
"In the spring of 2009, I started to have shortness of breath. I couldn't understand what was happening. I was riding the same routes and suddenly the hills that never bothered me before, now did." By the time Gary reached the top of the hill, he was gasping for air. That tipped him off that something was wrong.
Gary went from doctor to doctor, yet no one could provide a definitive diagnosis. He tried an inhaler, a stress test and pulmonary test before he was diagnosed with mild lung disease. "I didn't even know what that was," explained Gary, who insisted on a chest x-ray, which finally shed some light on the situation.
"My family doctor looked at my X-ray and shook his head. He said, 'This isn't normal.' One side was white and on the other side I could see the chest cavity." A CAT Scan revealed Gary's lung was filled with fluid.
Kendall advised her dad to get a second opinion.
After a battery of tests beginning in May 2009, Gary was finally diagnosed with mesothelioma in September (multiple taps of pleural fluid were non-diagnostic). He had a video-assisted thoracoscopic biopsy and talc procedure locally (meaning doctors use talc to glue the lung to the chest wall temporarily). Gary was told that he had advanced disease with a grim prognosis. He and his wife, Jane, have four grown daughters. His youngest, Kendall, started researching her dad's treatment options on the Internet. She learned that there were 3 types of mesothelioma and each should be treated differently. Gary's local oncologist recommended beginning a course of chemotherapy. But Kendall advised her dad to get a second opinion. He sought advice from 2 hospitals in Philadelphia, including Fox Chase Cancer Center.
"When I got to Fox Chase, I knew I was in good hands."
"When I got to Fox Chase, I knew I was in good hands," said Gary. After his diagnosis is confirmed, Gary underwent imaging studies, as well as a surgical mediastinoscopy (a biopsy of lymph nodes along the trachea to stage progression of the disease). Gary soon discovered that his fine health would play an important role in his treatment. "Because I was in such good shape, I was an excellent candidate for surgery, which was my best option for a cure. My hard work paid off!"
Mesothelioma is a rare type of cancer and is most often the result of asbestos exposure. Gary spent his career working for a manufacturer of flooring products. "Like many businesses at the time, they used asbestos," explained Gary. "I know that's where I contracted mesothelioma."
Medical and radiation oncologists at Fox Chase evaluated Gary and met to discuss his treatment options. They recommended surgery to remove the left lung, as it was only working at 10 percent capacity. Gary agreed as he felt the lung wasn't working anyway. He believed there was a greater benefit if it was removed. "I was a little apprehensive about taking my lung out, but my doctors assured me this was the best way to go," shared Gary.
Gary's surgery was scheduled for October 12, 2009. The extensive procedure took 8 hours and fortunately went as smoothly as possible. Instead of staying in the hospital for a couple of weeks, Gary was released after only 6 days. "Without exception, everyone who came to see me could not believe how well I looked. I had good color, was sitting up and feeling pretty good," recalled Gary, who was previously told to expect up to a 21 day stay in the hospital.
"Once we got home, Jane took excellent care of me," said Gary, who celebrated his 55th anniversary with his wife in 2010. "I barely experienced any pain." They enjoy spending time with their daughters, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. "We are truly blessed."
"If I stayed at my local hospital, I would have been given 6 months to live."
Gary credits his daughter Kendall with "the gift of life. If I didn't have someone to act as my advocate, I might have settled for chemotherapy at my local hospital, which would have given me 6 months to live."
Gary's doctors explained that combined treatment could extend his life. The average patient who has combined therapy lives 2 years but the lucky ones can have much more. Gary said he'd be happy if he lives to be 80. At the moment, he just wants to enjoy the great outdoors as much as he can.
In the winter of 2010, Gary began chemotherapy. "I have the best team of doctors at Fox Chase," shared Gary, who doesn't think twice about making the trip to Fox Chase.
"Fox Chase even gave us a nice place to stay when we were in town."
"Fox Chase offers lodging when we need to come for a couple of days. It couldn't be more convenient. And it is so well maintained, it's like being at home."
Gary felt that his doctors were extremely thorough. Even after the CAT Scan looked free and clear of cancer, they took a biopsy to make sure. "That's where I was fortunate," recalled Gary. "The cancer was localized and never spread. Catching it as early as possible was in my favor."
In addition to chemotherapy, Gary will also undergo a course of radiation therapy to reduce his chance of recurrence even further.
"Fox Chase has been very good to me. I've received nothing but excellent care."
"The entire staff at Fox Chase treats patients so well," said Gary. "Fox Chase is the best place to go if you have cancer. They have been very good to me. I've received nothing but excellent care." Gary encourages other people to take care of themselves, as he did. "I feel like I've been in training for this disease my whole life. Because I was in the best shape possible, I was able to receive the best treatment available."