Friday, December 16, 2011

Honoring our Duty to Treat Veterans with Late Onset War-Related Diseases, Worthingtons donate $100,000 to the Pacific Meso Center

LOS ANGELES. As we celebrate the end of the war in Iraq, in which nearly 4,500 US soldiers were killed in action, and over 30,000 were injured, we are mindful of our grateful nation’s duty to medically treat our veterans returning home with war-related disabilities.

Donald Thorp
USN 1964-1985
Mesothelioma, 1999
Historically, while our country has offered valuable medical care to veterans with open and obvious physical injuries, it hasn’t done a great job treating or attempting to treat our veterans afflicted with latent onset injuries, such as asbestos-caused malignant mesothelioma.

Today, to honor our country’s surviving veterans, whether from WWII, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, or more recent conflicts, who were exposed to deadly asbestos fibers, but for whom the US Department of Defense has never funded a treatment program, we are proud to donate $100,000 to the Pacific Meso Center (PMC).

The PMC stands alone as the only medical foundation which is dedicated to both basic science and clinical research on therapies for treating patients with mesothelioma. Of the 3,500 Americans diagnosed with mesothelioma annually, about a third of those patients were exposed to asbestos while serving their country in the armed forces or working as civilians in shipyards which built or repaired naval ships. For over 40 years, these service men and women, many of them heroes, have been dying of this horrible disease and this amounts to ten times the number of deaths as the entire Iraqi war!

Clyde Robison, Sr
USN 1956-1960
Mesothelioma, 2007
Regrettably, despite the clear link between mesothelioma, asbestos, and the US Navy, the DOD has never acknowledged it's duty to care for vets with asbestos diseases. The DOD has invested trillions of dollars over the past three decades in equipping our forces with the most sophisticated weaponry in the world, but it has been inexcusably penurious when it comes to funding programs to help prevent, diagnose or treat vets with service connected asbestos disease, such as mesothelioma.

We salute our front line soldiers, as well as all the doctors, nurses, and personnel within our vast network of Veterans Administration hospitals who daily attempt to treat veterans with asbestos diseases, which can take 20-50 years to manifest after initial asbestos exposures.

Thomas Reed
USCG 1969-1973
Mesothelioma, 2006
Unfortunately, within the colossal VA system, treating meso patients is not a priority. Despite an annual budget of over $132 billion (2012), the VA has neither a research nor a treatment program for vets stricken with war-related mesothelioma. 

One bright spot on treatment front, however, is the work and energy of Dr. Robert Cameron, a thoracic surgeon at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, who also serves as the Chief of Thoracic Surgery at the VA Medical Center in West Los Angeles and one of the only mesothelioma experts in the VA Medical System.

Dr. Cameron, a scientific advisor for the Pacific Meso Center, has thankfully taken a leadership role in framing the mission to develop a nationwide treatment program for veterans with mesothelioma.

Dr. Cameron commented "we are preparing to ask the VA to live up to its obligations to provide the best medical care for these veterans suffering from mesothelioma by creating a national center of excellence for both research and treatment at the West Los Angeles VA Medical Center where any veteran from across the country can come and be treated with the most advanced medical treatment available worldwide. We not only can but we must finally do this for our veterans." We applaud his interest in this orphan, underfunded disease.

James Hart
USN 1961-1963
Mesothelioma, 2006
Twenty years ago, when we first began representing veterans with mesothelioma, the lack of a federally funded program was perhaps understandable. But, today, the lack of a program is simply negligent. As my client Donald Thorp, a former Navy officer, said in 2000, "We served our country honorably. I cannot accept that our country has not taken responsibility to serve us."

Dr. Cameron recently lectured a large group of asbestos industry lawyers that despite an annual budget of $5 billion, the National Cancer Institute has never funded research on asbestos cancer commensurate with its incidence. He also noted that three promising therapies -- the IL-4 toxin, cryotherapy and stromal cell immunotherapy -- would each require start up funding of $2-3 million, which is a tiny fraction of the financial investment for chemotherapy drugs.

Can the country afford a few million dollars a year for meso research? Yes.  In 2012, our country has budgeted a whopping $1.4 trillion for defense related costs, including $707 billion for the DOD. 

We are hopeful that our donation will spur the PMC to continue to champion its campaign to partner with the DOD and DVA in the creation of a mesothelioma research program for our veterans who, long after their honorable discharge, continue to battle with war-related cancer.

Roger and Ann Worthington
December 16, 2011


Admiral Elmo Zumwalt
USN 1939-1974
Mesothelioma, 1999
Honoring Admiral Elmo Zumwalt and Remembering the Service Connected Asbestos-Induced Mesothelioma That Killed Him


Monday, November 21, 2011

Honoring Admiral Elmo Zumwalt and Remembering the Service Connected Asbestos-Induced Mesothelioma That Killed Him

[Bath, Maine]  Mesothelioma, as we know, does not respect fame, fortune, fitness, beauty or power.  It has taken down movie stars (Steve McQueen), athletes (Merlin Olsen), artists (Warren Zevon), politicians (Bruce Vento), and warriors, such as Admiral Elmo Zumwalt.

Back in the late 1990s, when I helped launch the first-ever meso medical research  foundation (MARF),  Congressman Bruce Vento had just been diagnosed. Although his plate was full, and understandably he was reluctant to let the asbestos cancer shape his legacy, he agreed to serve on MARF’s board of directors.  Vento was exposed to asbestos while working construction jobs earlier in his career.

About the same time, Admiral Zumwalt, who served as the Chief Naval Officer from 1970 to 1974, was also diagnosed, and soon after he passed away. Admiral Zumwalt was exposed to asbestos while serving his country on Navy ships. His mesothelioma was truly a “war-related disease.”

I was privileged to meet Congressman Vento, but I never met Admiral Zumwalt. We reached out to the Admiral’s children at the time his condition was made public to ask whether they would be interested in by serving on MARF’s Board. Mouzetta Zumwalt-Weathers agreed.

Branding Meso as a War-Related Disease

In the early days, Mouzetta helped MARF shape it’s research and advocacy agenda. This included the effort to re-define mesothelioma as a “service connected disability” for thousands of asbestos-exposed US Navy Veterans. We hoped the “rebranding” would help persuade Congress and the DOD, in particular, to establish an asbestos cancer research program, much in the same way as it did for Agent Orange injured veterans.

In the early 2000s, there was also an effort in Washington, D.C., led by Senator Patty Murray, to ban asbestos.  It was during this mission that I had the honor of meeting retired Lt. Colonel Jim Zumwalt (USMC).  Jim gave a passionate speech on the day the bill to ban asbestos was announced, a speech laced with history, poetry, and the call to duty. 

Jim Zumwalt became my hero of sorts.  Like his father, who was not afraid to shake things up in the pursuit of progress, Jim expressed indignant disbelief that despite knowing about asbestos diseases since the early 1900s, and despite the thousands of warriors and civilians whose lives were cut short by asbestos, the US Government had yet to ban the evil carcinogen.

I'd Share A Fox Hole with this Guy

Jim and Mouzetta Zumwalt
I was at once struck by Jim’s palpable strength, his charismatic leadership and his Homeric honor. I remember thinking at the time that if I was ever thrown into combat I’d like this guy in my fox hole.  Over the ensuing years, we exchanged e-mails and I always looked forward to reading his columns.  Not only is Jim an amazing orator, the former Marine is an author and  journalist who writes muscular and cliché-free columns about some of the unsung yet dire threats facing our national security. 

So a few months ago, when Jim invited me to join his family in the “laying of the keel” ceremony for a new class of destroyers named after his father, I lept at the opportunity. I’m certainly not a student of naval warfare. I don't invest in companies who profit handsomely from the military industrial complex. I don’t hob knob with politicians. And Bath, Maine was 3000 miles from home.  But both Jim and Mouzetta had volunteered their time and energy to help causes that were near and dear to me, so I felt like it was the least that I could do.

Meso: In Search of a Poster Boy

And, on some level, as an asbestos research advocate, I was curious about whether anyone would mention Admiral Zumwalt’s cause of death. It’s one of those telling details I look for.  Every cancer, it seems, has a “poster” boy or girl.  Mesothelioma certainly has its celebrities, but for understandable reasons, few survivors, and even fewer of their heirs, are eager to attach their names to something so hideous as mesothelioma.  Most of us want to be remembered for how we lived, and the things we accomplished, not how we died, or what killed us.

Did I want, in some selfish way, for my hero Jim Zumwalt to mention how his father died? I’m not sure. General Dynamics printed up a very classy glossy brochure about the Admiral Zumwalt. Inside were headshot pictures of the three surviving Zumwalt children and the deceased fourth and oldest son, Elmo Zumwalt III.  Beneath the latter’s photo, the caption read: “A Navy Lieutenant and Vietnam veteran, Elmo died in 1988 as a result of Agent Orange induced cancer.”

There it was, in frank language, the connection between the war, the combatant and the product that took his life. The brochure told us what killed the son, a carcinogenic herbicide used by our forces to defoliate the jungles of Vietnam.  But it didn't mention what killed the father and namesake of the new line of sophisticated destroyers -- asbestos products.

Toxic Words?

I listened with rapt attention to the speeches.  Would anyone mention asbestos?

Jim delivered a fine speech, telling us that in 2000 when President Clinton decided to name a new line of destroyers after Admiral Zumwalt, the decision was met with stiff resistance. But for the valiant advocacy of a few stalwart officers, according to Jim, it never would’ve happened.  Mavericks tend to make enemies.

Mouzetta first thanked the thousands of Bath Iron Works shipyard workers who have been diligently building the revolutionary ship.  She then read a letter from President Bill Clinton, who praised the Admiral for championing the civil liberties of all sailors, regardless of their sex, race or creed.

And Ann Zumwalt stepped up to the podium and playfully announced that Daddy always loved her best, adding a welcomed dose of warmth and humor to the solemn affair on such a frigid day.   She said hello to her Mom and Dad up above, who “had the best seats in the house.”   And, with a dramatic flair, she fittingly put her Dad in a long line of intrepid sailors going back to Odysseus: strong leaders who identified with the hardscrabble, bloody knuckled sea dogs. He was, she said, a "sailor's sailor."

To say that I was moved and amazed by the Zumwalt children is a massive understatement. Their Dad was a giant. It was not a day to grieve. Instead it was a day to celebrate and give thanks to all the many friends and shipmates who remained loyal to their Dad when the bullets flew, as they inevitably did around a man who wasn’t afraid to go toe to toe with stupid traditions.

Neither the children, nor any of three other dignitaries who spoke at the ceremony mentioned asbestos or mesothelioma.  I searched the internet the next day and of the 20 or more articles that covered the “laying of the keel” ceremony, not one mentioned what killed Admiral Zumwalt.

Getting it Right

Does this upset me? I’d like to say it doesn’t, as my family and I were honored to be able to witness an important milestone in our nation’s naval history. I met Jim after the ceremony and sincerely congratulated him and his sisters for their moving tribute.  I didn't dwell on the "elephant in the room" omission – it was their story, and their ship, and their father, and their moment, not mine.

And, yet, now I admit to feeling a bit uneasy. Admiral Zumwalt was known for telling it like it was. When it was highly unpopular, he took a stand to open up the US Navy to African Americans and to women.  He cared about the living conditions of the sailors.  He cared about boosting morale. He identified with the sailors and their welfare was important to him. He struck me as the kind of leader who would want to get it right.

Ten years ago I went to Washington DC for a tribute to Congressman Vento, who at the time was being treated for mesothelioma.  President Clinton spoke, as did one of the greatest raconteurs of our time, Garrison Keillor.  Nobody uttered the word “asbestos” or “mesothelioma,” like the words themselves were toxic.

A few years later Keillor wrote a book and in the book he mentioned meeting Congressman Vento who, he wrote, at the time was being treated for “lung cancer.”  Mesothelioma is not lung cancer.  I wasn't trying to be picky or pedantic.  It wasn’t an “inside baseball” or “gotcha” thing but I felt compelled to write to Keillor.  I explained to him that it was “mesothelioma” not “lung cancer” which had stricken the Congressman.  The distinction was important, I wrote, because mesothelioma was an orphan, “industrial” disease that nobody wanted to talk about, let alone try to treat or cure.

Garrison Keillor wrote me back, which I thought was honorable in itself. He wrote words to the effect that he lamented his error,  and that from what he knew of the man, Bruce would’ve wanted him “to get it right."

What Would the Admiral Want?

The Zumwalts have given much to our country.  The admiral and his oldest son were both casualties of war-related injuries.  Both Jim and Mouzetta have donated their valuable time and energy in the campaign to ban asbestos and fund meso research. I can see why on a chilly day in the short amount of time allotted they chose not to mention what took their Dad’s life. It's a special honor to have a new class of ships named after your Dad. 

And yet, I guess I’m disappointed that nobody, at any time, in any medium, including the media who photographed, filmed and covered the event, attempted to “get it right. “  

Roger Worthington with his wife Ann
and daughter Vivian
Crusading for mesothelioma research is an exhausting and thankless mission.  I’ll end this account by noting that over a decade since mesothelioma  took the lives of great Americans like Congressman Vento and Admiral Zumwalt, we still don’t have a bona fide federally funded asbestos cancer research and treatment program.  And, unforgivably, asbestos has not  been banned. Progress is slow going.  Hope can hold out only so long against the corrosive rust of frustration.

Congress has budgeted around $10 billion for the three Zumwalt destroyers. $10 billion with a "B." Thanks in large part to the advocacy of Admiral Zumwalt, whose own son was dying from cancer caused by chemical exposures, the DOD created a program to help Vietnam Vets suffering from Agent Orange induced cancers. 

The history books will remember Admiral Zumwalt as a "sailor's sailor" who dragged the Navy "kicking and screaming" into the 20th Century. My guess, and this is only a guess, as I never met the man, is that the Admiral would’ve been pleased to allocate a slice of that $10 billion budget to fund a federal program to help treat his fellow sailors who were put in harms way by asbestos. He would've wanted to be remembered for making things right.

R. Worthington

To read more about the laying of the keel of the prototype of the Zumwalt class DDG-1000 guided missile destroyers, see below.

General Dynamics Bath Iron Works Moves 4,000-ton Section of Destroyer "Zumwalt" (DDG 1000). Oct. 27, 2011  Click here

Ceremony at BIW marks a milestone for Zumwalt. Nov. 18, 2011  Click here

General Dynamics Bath Iron Works Lays Keel of DDG 1000, First Zumwalt-class Destroyer. Nov. 18, 2011  Click here

Milestone marked in Maine on stealthy destroyer. Nov. 18, 2011  Click here

Monday, November 14, 2011

Dr. Cameron to Asbestos Defendants: Do the Right Thing, Fund Research, Help Us Clean up Your Mess

[Las Vegas, NV] Sometimes you just gotta throw it out there, even though the cards are totally stacked against you.

Asbestos litigation has raged on for about 50 years.  The asbestos companies have spent billions to defend and settle lawsuits.  Hundreds of millions have been spent on concocting junk science to prove that asbestos is as benign as mother’s milk.  But nary a penny has been invested in finding a cure.

On the medical front, nobody can say with a straight face that in the last 30 years there have been any significant advances in extending the life of mesothelioma patients. Yes, we can talk all day about multi-modal therapies, whether EPP is rational or not,or whether there’s any proven benefit of pursuing chemotherapy versus doing nothing at all.

We’re the richest nation on Earth. Some may argue that when it comes to matters of science, engineering, medicine and even justice we’re the smartest nation on Earth.

But the fact remains that when it comes to extending the survival of mesothelioma patients, we’re barely out of the Dark Ages.  It’s not for a lack of money – the asbestos industry, the government, the drug companies, and the insurance companies over the years have had access to trillions of dollars.

And it’s not for the lack of plausible ideas despite the lack of actual public and private funding of research to treat meso patients, there have always been reasonable theories to convert meso from an always fatal cancer to a treatable chronic disease.

What’s lacking? Simple. There’s been a lack of will. A failure to take ownership of the problem, a denial of the problem, and a refusal to truly marshal the resources to solve it. 

It was against this historical backdrop of pessimism, nihilism, and willful indifference, in a place where reasonable men and women eagerly sojourn to test their luck against impossible odds, that a little bit of history was made.

The Defense Research Institute,  the self proclaimed “voice of the corporate defense bar,” to its credit, invited a doctor who treats meso patients to come talk to the nation’s top defense lawyers about ways to extend the survival of meso patients.

The doctor? Dr. Robert Cameron, a thoracic surgeon renown for putting the interests of his patients above any other financial or academic or ego driven agenda. If you’ve read any of this website you know that when it comes to making choices about treatment options we regard Dr. Cameron as the cool calm voice of reason in a stormy sea of hype, bad science and balderdash.

To that esteemed audience, an audience to which it can reasonably be asked – why would you care about extending the life of patients who are seeking big damages against your corporatate clients? --  Dr. Cameron let it all hang out. Nothing slick. Nothing pre-packaged.  Nothing designed to make you feel good.

His message was simple:  we haven’t advanced much on the medical front, but we do have promising ideas to tame this tumor.  The government has never funded research proportionate to its incidence, impact or responsibility, and corporate America has even done less.  Dr. Cameron was excited – I repeat, he said he was “excited” about several potential therapies  but at the same time ‘frustrated’ that despite their promise he’s never been able to put them to work on account there’s been no money to fund them. 

And these promising research projects don't carry Hoover Dam sized price tags.  Dr. Cameron said that research and trials for the IL-4 toxin, cryotherapy (which he’s already using successfully to freeze out tumors that recur post surgery) and stromal cell manipulation could be underwritten for about $2-3 million each, a drop in the bucket when you consider the size of the NCI cancer budget ($5 billion a year) and the wealth of the corporate defendants (hundreds of billions).

Obviously Dr. Cameron was pitching to a tough crowd.  The asbestos defendants have paid out billions in settlements. About 40 companies have filed chapter 11.  The only asbestos company to ever fund medical research, Owens Corning, filed Chapter 11. Another, WR Grace, pledged to fund research but alas also sought bankruptcy protection. Dr.Cameron could hardly point to any empirical evidence that funding research to clean up the asbestos mess was a sure fire way to drive up a company’s stock price.

So why would an asbestos defendant want to contribute to medical research? Dr. Cameron offered an analogy. In medicine, mistakes are common place. Sponges get left in the human body.  An organ gets nicked. A vessel gets cut.  Accidents happen. But doctors don't always get sued when they make a mistake.  Instead, the doctors who fess up immediately, who speak directly to their patients about what went wrong and why, and own up to their error, usually don’t get sued, because their patients still trust them. It’s the doctors who try to cover up their mistake that get called onto the carpet. It’s usually not the negligence, it's the attempt to cover it up, that gets folks in trouble.

Dr. Cameron humbly admitted that he was not a testifying expert and he did not pretend to know if there were any ramifications regarding liability.  But, he suggested, virtue is its own reward.  Money invested in converting meso from a fatal to a treatable disease would not only engender public goodwill, but it could also perhaps limit damages, as successful patients could die from what all of us hope to die from – old age.

Did it work? Were the lions tamed? Will corporate America step up? When Dr. Cameron finished his earnest speech, going down in history as the first treating doctor to ever ask the asbestos defense (an audience he described as “the top 1% of America’s brain power”) for their help in coming up with funding strategies, the moderator thanked the good doctor for his passion but, on the question of will they or wont they, said: “Never gonna happen.”


Monday, October 24, 2011

VW Gone Buggy

I grew up adoring Herbie the Love Bug.  Herbie was the odd-car out.  Short, stubby, and, next to the Camaros and Firebirds and Chargers, wimpy. But Herbie had a heart of gold. Despite it’s undersized engine and buggish shell it managed to overcome and win not only the race but our hearts and minds.

My pre-adolescent adoration spread to Volkswagen in general, who artfully played to the counterculture crowd in the 1960s. Their VW bus actually became a symbol of the freedom-loving hippy generation.  The VW became part of a costume – you wore the Bug or Bus like you would love beads, tie-dye, peace symbols, sandals, a doobie and an acoustic guitar.

I didn't learn until many years later about how the VW "love bug" sprang up during pre World War II Nazi Germany. On reflection, it made sense for VW to reject orthodoxy and embrace the free-loving, free-speaking ways of America’s “flower children.” Which car company would want to be associated with the goose-stepping, iron crossed Wehrmacht?

So imagine my surprise when recently Volkswagen knocked the dust off its old playbook and used an arm of the government to trample all over our cherished freedom of speech.

It went like this.  Simona Farrise, a tenacious litigator and fierce defender of the justice system, was engaged in a heated trial with VW, Ford Motors, Nissan and a few others. Her client, Richard Steiner, was dying of lung cancer caused by exposure to asbestos. 

The defense had already taken over 50 depositions and spent millions of dollars during discovery, but that wasn't enough.  VW asked the Court to order the Farrise Firm to take down portions of their website.  The pages in question dealt with attorney Farrise’s verdicts against other asbestos brake manufacturers in other cases dealing with other diseases.

The Court, regrettably, not only acquiesced, but went further.  The Court ordered attorney Farrise to take down her entire website. Whoa Nellie! Isnt that a bit extreme, especially in a freedom loving country like the US of A?  I mean, haven’t good men and women died for our right of free speech? Don't’ we decide in this country to encourage unfettered, unlimited speech and decide later if a line was crossed that warrants punishment?

It gets weirder.  The Court had already admonished the jurors not to “google the lawyers” or do any of their own research.  And we all know that jurors who violate such admonishments are subject to fines or jail for contempt.  Neither VW, Ford nor any other defense counsel offered any evidence that particular jurors either had or surely would violate the “gag” rule. 

Added to which there was nothing on said website that rose to the level of false, inflammatory or prejudicial misinformation.  Attorney Farrise had simply posted her verdicts in other friction cases. The truth. The facts. Nothing defamatory. When did telling the truth become…illegal?

Nonetheless, the Court ordered Farrise to take down its website for the duration of the trial, which was slated to last 6-7 weeks.  It must be said that the defense lawyers were not ordered to take down their websites. Nor was Volkswagen or Ford ordered to take down any of it’s websites.

So where are we?  The matter is now before the Supreme Court of California.  This should be a no-brainer.  Even a big lummox like Walter Sobchak in “The Big Lebowski” knew that “the Supreme Court has roundly rejected prior restraint…” Strategically, VW might rejoice that they trampled on the rights of the Farrise firm.  Good for you. A rag- around that stomach punches a plaintiff lawyer is, after all, a "win."

But there’s a larger sin here. VW, like so many tyrants before, hate a justice system in which common folks are allowed to decide the fate of  … tyrants.  VW implored the Court to force a plaintiffs firm to take down a truthful website without a shred of evidence or even suspicion of juror misconduct.  In so doing VW exposed a cynical and hostile presumption that jurors qua jurors are untrustworthy, dishonest, and rogue.

Shame on VW! Shame on the Court for blessing such contemptible nonsense.  And high fives to Simona Farrise for taking this fight to the Supreme Court of California, which should, as Professor Sobchack pounded home, "roundly reject" this nasty display of prior restraint.  If the lovable Herbie knew what its brutish parent was doing today it would blow a gasket.


"Has the whole world gone crazy?
Am I the only one around here who gives a sh** about the rules?!"

Ford joined in VW's motion to restrain speech.

The inflammatory content that VW and Ford wanted to suppress on the Farrise Firm's website mentioned a verdict against Ford in two prior meso cases.  Obscene, defamatory, riot inciting hate speech? You decide.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Tour Des Chutes Raises Over $90,000 for Cancer Survivorship

Bend, Or.  The Punch Worthington Lab is pleased to have helped the 7th Annual Tour Des Chutes raise over $90,000 for cancer survivorship programs in Central Oregon.

Chris Horner, L, and Roger Worthington, R,
enjoying their moment in the sun at
the 2011 Tour Des Chutes in Bend, Oregon. 
Over 1,100 riders, a record, participated in the fun ride, which offered routes between 7 and 100 miles between Bend, Oregon and the Cascade Range. In it's 7th year, the TdC raised over $90,000, another record. Since 2006, the TdC has donated over $430,000 to cancer survivorship programs, including the Livestrong Foundation. 

"This was the best year ever, " beamed Roger Worthington, who has emceed the post-race party the last 5 years. "The live music was awesome, the food was delicious, the crowd was animated, the speakers were inspiring and it didn't rain the entire time."

The Punch Worthington Lab, in honor of Dave "Punch" Worthington, a rugged Oregonian crabber and bow hunter who passed away from asbestos cancer in 2006, is affiliated with the Pacific Heart Lung and Blood Institute, a 501(c)(3) medical foundation in Los Angeles. PHLBI dedicated the Punch Worthington Lab at UCLA Medical School in 2005. 

The Tour Des Chutes is a non-profit, all volunteer charity which holds an annual fun ride, the net proceeds of which are donated to cancer survivorship programs in Central Oregon. The TdC is the brainchild of Gary Bonacker, diagnosed with inoperable brain cancer five years ago, and is still smiling and looking stronger than ever. 

Punch Worthington
A highlight of the extraordinary day of fun, hope, gratitude, cycling and music was a cameo appearance by local hero Chris Horner, who recently crashed out of the Tour De France. Horner was predicted by insiders to be a podium contender, at the ripe young age of 39.  Horner will be hosting the Cascade Gran Fondo in Bend on August 18-20, a multi-day series of rides, lectures and parties, the proceeds of which will benefit local cancer research and advocacy programs.

Horner suffered a mild concussion after crashing in France.  Worthington jokingly asked him if he recalled their conversation the morning of the crash in which he promised Worthington a spot on the Radio Shack's team bus for next years Tour Des France. Horner, a seasoned and charismatic speaker, didn't miss a beat: "Actually that was the only thing I remembered from that day."

The Punch Worthington Lab has been a yellow jersey sponsor of the TdC the past 5 years and has enjoyed helping the event grow into one of the most prestigious, fun and successful cancer fundraising events in Oregon.  The ride registration filled up early this year and the TdC was forced to turn away willing participants, always a tough thing to do by a non-profit. Next year the TdC hopes to raise the ceiling on its registration and expand the venue, but just in case a reminder to sign up early!


Roger Worthington

Thursday, June 16, 2011

International Panel of Medical Specialists Convene for First-Ever Medical Symposium Dedicated to Lung-Sparing Therapies for Patients With Malignant Pleural Mesothelioma

The UCLA Mesothelioma Research Program, in conjunction with the Pacific Meso Center, held the 1st International Symposium on Lung-Sparing Therapies for Malignant Pleural Mesothelioma on May 21 in Santa Monica, California. The Law Office of Roger Worthington was proud to co-sponsor this first-ever medical seminar focusing on treatment options for patients with pleural mesothelioma.

In recent years, a growing number of the world’s top mesothelioma experts have questioned the value of a radical surgical procedure known as extrapleural pneumonectomy, or EPP, which involves removal of the pleura-based tumor along with the adjacent lung, lymph nodes, portions of the pericardium and the diaphragm. Despite a 60 percent complication rate, the radical surgery continues to be advocated by a number of leading mesothelioma specialists, including Dr. David Sugarbaker of Brigham and Women’s Hospital/Dana Farber Cancer Institute in Boston.

(left - right) Mr. David Waller, MD, Mr. Tom Treasure, MD and
Dr. Robert Cameron, MD
Led by Dr. Robert Cameron, Director of the UCLA Mesothelioma Research Program and Chief of Thoracic Surgery at the West Los Angeles Veterans’ Administration Medical Center, a wide range of medical specialists reviewed information from a variety of U.S. centers as well as from the recently concluded Mesothelioma And Radical Surgery (MARS) trial from the U.K. The results of this randomized clinical trial were presented by English surgeons, Tom Treasure and David Waller, and clearly demonstrated that radical removal of the lung through EPP holds no advantage over alternative, less radical, lung-sparing therapies.

In a press release issued by the Pacific Meso Center, where Dr. Cameron serves as Scientific Advisor, he commented that, “The information presented at this Symposium makes an incredibly strong statement that surgical removal of the lung for treatment of malignant pleural mesothelioma should no longer be performed anywhere in the world, just like it has been abandoned already in the U.K." Dr. Cameron went on to say that, "Although it's usually hard to get physicians to agree on anything, there was unanimous agreement by the end of the conference that lung-sparing pleurectomy was the preferred surgical procedure if surgery was to be used at all."

The distinguished faculty at this landmark meeting also addressed the role of non-surgical therapies such as cryo and radio frequency ablation, radiation, chemotherapy, immunotherapy, gene therapy and promising future therapies. Dr. Cameron and others described how some of these therapies can be used in the model of treating mesothelioma as a chronic disease once the tumor has been removed through lung-sparing surgery.

Terry and Maryla Latham
One such adjuvant therapy that has only recently been utilized for pleural mesothelioma is cryoablation. UCLA Radiologist Dr. Fereidoun Abtin explained that cryoablation is an outpatient procedure in which compressed argon and helium gas is delivered through 3 mm probes inserted into a tumor to essentially freeze the tumor cells. It can be determined in a matter of a few weeks whether the procedure is successful and, because it is an outpatient treatment with a low incidence of pain, it can be performed many times over a relatively short period. UCLA Medical Center is currently the only institute where cryoablation is being used to treat mesothelioma.

The Symposium also featured a touching presentation from Geraldine Lepore about living with mesothelioma from a family’s perspective, as well as an inspirational speech from mesothelioma survivor Terrence Latham who underwent a lung-sparing pleurectomy in 2010 and credits Dr. Cameron for saving his life.

The Pacific Meso Center plans to release videos of many of the Symposium presentations on its website in the coming weeks

Saturday, May 14, 2011

“Ored to Death” – The Daily Show Takes on the Canadian Asbestos Industry

In a recent blog we addressed efforts on the part of mining interests, with support from the Canadian government, to re-open the world’s largest asbestos mine in the city of Asbestos, Quebec. Although the sale of asbestos is prohibited in Canada, the consortium plans to sell the deadly fiber to India and other developing countries.

This story also caught the attention of Comedy Central Network’s “Daily Show”, hosted by Jon Stewart. In this segment which aired on May 12, correspondent Asif Mandvi visits the town of Asbestos and interviews mine and city officials who ridiculously adhere to the position that the chrysotile fiber removed from the mine is “relatively” safe despite the weight of scientific evidence to the contrary.

Mandvi manages to maintain his comedic shtick during an interview with mine owner Bernard Coulumbe up to the point where Mr. Coulumbe states that it’s ok to sell asbestos to India because “they are used to pollution.” At which point Mandvi, who is Indian, breaks character and exclaims: “that’s really f***ed up…selling them things that are going to kill them…that’s my family over there!”

Marilyn Bertrand
 The callous statements from the Canadian mine and city officials interviewed by Mandvi remind us of a 1998 exchange between Roger Worthington and University of Quebec Occupational Hygienist, Dr. Bruce Case. The exchange was precipitated by an article The Serpent in the Rock”  authored by Mr. Worthington about a woman named Marilyn Bertrand who was diagnosed with mesothelioma at the age of 42. Marilyn recalled sleeping with a “furry” asbestos rock that she would snuggle with in her bed at night as a child. The asbestos rock was given to her by her brother who worked at a Quebec asbestos mine.

In response to the article, Dr. Chase felt compelled to send Mr. Worthington a letter defending the Quebec asbestos mines from what he termed “false allegations” concerning the link between mesothelioma and the chrysotile fiber mined from the Quebec asbestos mines. Dr. Chase went so far as to warn Mr. Worthington: “I strongly suggest, for your own protection, that you remove this page from your site.” Click here to see the full dialogue, which includes Mr. Worthington’s recounting of the history of U.S. and Canadian asbestos companies’ efforts to cover up and suppress medical data on the health dangers of asbestos

We applaud Assif Mandvi and the Daily Show for bringing public attention to the latest chapter in the Canadian asbestos industry’s deadly charade.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Inspired by Cancer Thrivers, BfC Digs Deep Into the Happy Hurt Locker, Wins the Dana Point Grand Prix

Dana Point, CA. They've done it again. Another clean sweep of the podium by the Breakaway from Cancer masters racing team, but this time, it was personal.

A Clean Sweep.
Roger Worthington, Steve Strickler
 and Thurlow Rogers
 "I had a chance to meet this young boy Tyler Cordova before the race," said Steve Strickler, beaming with pride after winning a hard-fought race.. "He had this big smile on his face. He told me had had over 10 surgeries but recently he got some very good news -- that his Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma was in remission. I was so happy that he was so happy that I was a chin quiver away from bursting out with tears of joy. "

"In the race I kept thinking how lucky I was to have the privilege of being able to suffer on my terms. To win a big race, you have to want to go deep into that hurt locker if you want to come out the winner. It's ironic, but to do your best you have to be ready put your body through the ringer -- pain is simply the price winners have to pay," Strickler explained, struggling for the words. "My suffering was nothing compared to what this young champion Tyler has had to endure - that ugly, involuntary, stupid pain that only seems to beget more pain, with no reward. I kept telling myself that young Tyler would love to have the chance to experience that good kind of cathartic suffering."

Just as it took a team of front line doctors, benchwork scientists, caregivers, drug companies, friends and especially family to give 10 year old Tyler a fighting chance to break away from Cancer, it took a team effort to launch Strickler to victory. From the gun, BfC took control of the race, attacking repeatedly in the effort to wear down the field. When the peloton began stretching thin, BfC teammates Thurlow Rogers and Strickler sensed the moment and busted off the front, gaining a quick ten second advantage. 

The peloton winding through
downtown Dana Point on
an idyllic Sunday afternoon
Every racer dreams of breaking away, just as every cancer patient dreams of breaking clear of cancer's ugly grip. But for a breakaway to succeed, it takes a combination of team tactics, individual grit, and luck. Strickler and Rogers, a 1984 Olympian, began working in tandem off the front, expertly shaving the corners and efficiently taking turns at the point in the wind.

Meanwhile, in the peloton, the BfC boys were stuffing the corners, chasing down bridge attempts, and stifling fledgling efforts by the other teams to mount a serious chase. Finally, with three laps remaining in the six turn, .9 mile course in beautiful downtown Dana Point, the peloton accepted its fate that on this day this breakaway was just too strong and too motivated. They conceded and turned their attention to winning the field sprint for third.

Up the road, as Strickler and Thurlow ramped down the home stretch to the finish line, the only question among these two long time friends and warriors was who was going to get the win. Each magnanimously braked for the other but in a "photo finish" the camera gave Strickler the edge. When a team races together as a team, each member gets to share the glory.

Roger Worthington on the
point of the spear
Teammate Roger Worthington, too, found motivation in the heroic pursuit for more life by those courageous men and women stricken with cancer. The previous night, the Pacific Meso Center and Amgen's Breakaway from Cancer sponsored a fundraiser for cancer research and awareness.  Several mesothelioma patients, although hurting, overcame the pain and inconvenience to travel to the Dana Point Yacht Club to support the noble cause. Worthington was moved by the resiliency, faith, hope and optimism of these brave souls for whom quitting was never an option.

Worthington attacked with two turns to go and rode in for third, completing the clean sweep by Breakaway from Cancer. The entire Breakaway from Cancer team dedicated the win to Tyler Cordova and mesothelioma survivors Terry Latham (Dana Point), Jacob Jager (San Clemente), Bob Vitale (Palos Verdes), Geno Stirone (Mission Viejo), David Theobold and Nasseem Faraq.

The BfC masters racing team wishes to thank Amgen, the City of Dana Point and the Pacific Meso Center for putting on a wonderful weekend. The highlight of day, however, was not winning the race. Instead, it was walking in solidarity with young Tyler as well as several mesothelioma patients down the home stretch across the finish line as thousands of fans cheered in support. For the record, Strickler, who walked with the survivors, did not let Tyler cross the finish line in first -- our young hero gutted up and took it!


PS. We're still counting, but so far it looks like the Breakaway from Cancer gala raised just south of $50,000 for the evening. Thank you! Trickle down philanthropy is alive and well in Dana Point! Heartwarming to note that the biggest donors were cancer survivors and family members.

Clare Cameron (Pacific Meso Center), Holly Cordova,
Tyler Cordova, Dana Point Mayor Scott Schoeffel and
Nurse Practitioner Anne Rorie