Lighting the way as a beacon of hope, demonstrating courage to others fighting the fight, being an inspiration when someone needs it most.
For one man, it’s become a way of life.
The Sunday Series (45): A Man of Good Hope
Neil had passed away and it was a crushing blow. It happens way too often these days, but it was another of those moments Richard realized what this is really all about. “I went to visit Neil’s wife after he was gone”, says Richard. “She put her arm around me and revealed to me what Neil had said about me – he told her, ‘I met this guy, he is a long-time survivor and talking to him… he gives me hope.’ My knees almost buckled and I started to cry.”
It’s a moment Richard Mosca will long remember. And there have been so many more. It’s a sacrifice Richard makes to be a savior to so many on their journey. It’s not easy, because how many times can you lose a friend? How many times can a heart break? Apparently many more than Richard realized he could handle, but the sacrifice of emotional pain is worth it, if even one soul can live a day of hope.
For Richard it all began with some night sweats. He thought it was simply a complication from the diverticulitis he had dealt with for years. A little bloating, drenched sheets, par for the course. Even at his annual physical in October of 2006 he failed to mention it, until the end of the appointment. When the doctor asked Richard if there was anything else he wanted to talk about, Richard shared his recent symptoms, the doctor raised his eyebrows… then sent him off for a CAT scan. The journey had begun.
Throughout the winter of 2006 a series of tests, surgery on Richard’s abdomen, a blood clot in his neck, lymph nodes removed, another round of abdomen surgery — finally some clarity. The winter of Richard’s discontent had finally landed him on the doorstep of an oncologist at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital in New York. This doctor, a specialist, recommended one more biopsy. A 10-inch piece of Richard’s omentum was removed, (omentum is the skin which hangs just above the abdomen), and it was sent off for testing. The result: mesothelioma, an aggressive cancer affecting the membrane lining of the lungs and abdomen. The abdominal “meso” affects only about 600 people a year in the United States, rare enough that funding is hard to come by for research and patient advocacy. The primary cause for mesothelioma – exposure to asbestos. And understand this fact: Asbestos kills more people than road traffic accidents every year. Inhaling the fibers can cause the cancer mesothelioma to develop as much as half a century after exposure.
For Richard, he is fairly certain he came in contact with the asbestos while employed, but explains there are plenty of ways to contract the disease and it’s not always primary contact. A woman who has become Richard’s mentor contracted the disease from secondary exposure. The woman’s father, who worked as an electrician while she was growing up, was exposed to asbestos nearly every day. When he came home her father would routinely take off his work clothes and leave them in the laundry room – the same room which also served as a playroom for his children. It is this same woman who helped Richard a great deal, especially as he was going through his rounds of chemotherapy following the first surgery. Richard remembers thinking, “I want to be just like her”, giving hope to those scared to death of what lies ahead.
Often it’s not the fear of surgery, but simply survival which gnaws at the heart. Richard’s greatest fears following his two surgeries in 2007 were if he would make it – what if was not there to walk his daughter down the aisle – and wondering if he were gone tomorrow would his young grandchildren still remember him.
“With cancer you just never know”, says Richard. “All could be great, then six months later it recurs, you just don’t know. The doctors said I had a more aggressive tumor than they wanted to see. Now every time there is a little pain or something doesn’t feel right you start to think, oh crap, it’s back.”
But Richard is one of the lucky ones. Mesothelioma doesn’t play games. One-third of all meso patients don’t last a year, another third of patients see their cancer return in five years and only one-third mange to live beyond five years. And it’s not just survival, it’s the games a serious illness can play with your mind. Richard was fortunate enough to have a large amount of sick time from his job at Con Edison in New York City, but now looks back and wonders if that was a big mistake. “I found myself sitting around the house and obsessing with this”, Richard says. “I would research mesothelioma on the internet and only saw negativity – all the law firms telling you to get a lawyer, (for what so many refer to as the TV cancer, with all the mesothelioma commercials out there), and people seeking holistic approaches and not using chemotherapy. I started to wonder if I was going to regret my route of treatment. It became a mental nightmare. My wife would come home and I would be in the same position on the couch as when she left me. I found myself getting depressed without even realizing it. I would sit there and not care about anything.”
It was Richard’s wife Lora who saw the signs and turned things around. “My wife recognized the depression and soon gave me things to do. She made sure when she left in the morning for work I had errands to run, I would go visit people or even go to the library, sit down and read for a while. She kept her eye on me and in a round-a-bout way kept me busy without being direct about the depression.”
CAT scans and checks are a way of life now, but it was 3-1/2 years after Richard’s second surgery, when Richard thought it was all over. “After looking at my CAT scan the doctor walks right over to me sits down in front of me and says you have a mass on the right side of your abdomen. I was almost sure it had come back. At that point I had made it farther than I thought I would”, says Richard. But luck was on his side, because the mass was removed, tested and it turned out it was just an infection from Richard’s diverticulitis, not a return of the cancer. It’s now been two years since that most recent false alarm… and Richard continues to move forward on his mission to bring hope to other meso victims.
“I’m big into the (Mesothelioma Applied Research) Foundation, (http://www.curemeso.org/site/c.duIWJfNQKiL8G/b.8598593/k.D685/Homepage.htm ). I served on the Board for three years, but now I’m off the Board because they want me to become the face of the Foundation. One of Richard’s notable efforts to bring mesothelioma to the forefront of people’s minds resulted in an official proclamation in the State of New York, declaring September 26th, “Mesothelioma Awareness Day.”
For seven years now Richard has been an active member of the mesothelioma patient community and through a nomination by the Mesothelioma Applied Research Foundation, he has participated in six congressionally directed medical research grant panels, giving him a unique perspective that most patients do not experience. But it IS the patient experience to which Richard can mostly closely relate and the one he is living to change: (https://www.facebook.com/curemeso)
It’s not easy because the pain of loss permeates Richard’s life, it’s something he has learned to live with since early on in the journey. “I’m a big Yankee fan”, says Richard. “When I went to my first chemotherapy session I wore all my Yankee stuff. The guy in the chair next to me, David, was decked out in Red Sox gear, but we became the best of friends. We would jab at each other a lot about each team. David would come in frequently for treatment because he had it (meso) bad. We spent a lot of time together. I would go pick him up and take him out to dinner. He was one of the good guys. I remember the Giants-Patriots Super Bowl and when the Giants won, David still called me up to congratulate me. We were sports enemies, but we were the best of friends. When David passed I wrote his wife a note and she read it at the funeral.”
Too many funerals, too many losses. But Richard says he gets so much satisfaction out of making the connections. “I have the nurse match me with new patients about my age, she gets me in contact with them and I allow them to pick my brain. I don’t sugar-coat it. I tell them how I survived, what I went through and what they can do to try to avoid the pain, little tricks that help. I tell them how I was swinging my golf clubs six weeks after surgery. I always, always stay positive.”
Richard and Lora don’t just open their hearts, they even open the door to their home. “Other things we do to help is offer our home up to people who are coming to New York for treatments. Their family or caregivers can stay with us as long as they require.” It’s finding a way to bring some hope. While Richard may not be able to change the final outcome for others dealing with mesothelioma, he can try to bring joy to the journey. Even one day of hope is better than none at all.
And then there’s the takeaway so many dealing with a serious illness find – life is precious. “I tell everyone to appreciate your friends and family”, says Richard. “And the biggest thing I tell everyone is even if you are going through bad experiences you must live today and worry about tomorrow when it gets here. It’s the way I live my life now. Worry about today because it’s here, it’s important. Tomorrow is another day.”
Another day of good hope.
Until next time, thanks for taking the time.
(Sometimes the universe conspires on your behalf. At the time of writing this blog, I happened to hear a song titled, A Song of Good Hope, by Glen Hansard. I thought it worthwhile to include the YouTube version in this post, feel free to give it a look and a listen:( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MrU_gSijqRg)
Mark Brodinsky, Author, Blogger, Speaker
The #1 Amazon Best-Seller: It Takes 2. Surviving Breast Cancer: A Spouse’s Story
Buy the Book: (https://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=mark+brodinsky)
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