Veteran’s Widow Describes Her Husband’s Struggle with Mesothelioma

Survivors // December 21, 2016

Let me begin by telling you just a little bit about my husband, Randy Branson, who passed away from mesothelioma on August 30, 2014.

Randy was in the United States Navy right after high school and spent six years on different ships. We were married soon after he finished boot camp, and were married for 40 years when he passed away.

He had always been an avid hiker having hiked hundreds of miles on the Appalachian Trail throughout our marriage. Never complained about how hard the hike was until his very last one in November of 2013. He came home saying that he had a hard time breathing and this hike just absolutely wiped him out. My thinking was that this man never had anything but good words about all of the other numerous hikes he had made during this year. He continued to keep coughing and then decided that maybe he needed to go to his doctor to see if maybe something was going on with his lungs due to a cold or something viral.

His doctor gave him cough medications and an antibiotic to take for 10 days. This did not help, and then he went back to his doctor who ordered an X-ray of his chest. Upon waiting for several days for the results of the X-ray, we had our Thanksgiving Day celebration and just a couple of days after he had an appointment with his doctor to go over his recent X-ray.

When he came home, he told me that he had to tell me something, and I knew then that what he was going to tell me was not going to be what I wanted to hear. He proceeded to tell me that there was a spot on his lung and that his doctor was going to send him to the VA Hospital for further testing and possibly a biopsy done to see what we were looking at.

Randy had a CT scan at the VA and a biopsy was done. They told him that when he got home he was to return if he noticed any kind of bleeding that appeared to be more than what you would normally expect. It was later that night that I had to take him to the Emergency Room because he was having abnormal bleeding. They did yet another scan and the ER Doctor came in and asked if anyone had told us about the mass that was on his lung, and of course we really had not been told anything except that there was a mass.

The ER doctor proceeded to tell us that this mass was very large and was taking up about one-third of his lung. Randy would need to be admitted because he also had pneumonia. We were devastated because his primary care doctor told him that what she had seen from the X-ray appeared to be about the size of a jawbreaker. That had been less than a month ago, and now it had grown to over one-third of his lung.

I had this feeling in my heart, and the first thing that I thought of was “Oh my God, he has mesothelioma.” I don’t know why except I knew that he had been exposed to asbestos while serving in the Navy and having to be on a ship that was dry docked in Boston and complete tear down of this ship and constantly breathing in asbestos fibers on a daily basis for well over a year. It was just the first thing that I thought about.

No one at this point said anything about mesothelioma. It was just a rare form of cancer, and he underwent 6 different biopsies until they confirmed that he did indeed have pleural mesothelioma.

He went through weeks and weeks of radiation because the tumor was growing very fast and they needed to slow it down. He started the radiation in January because he did not wish to tell our children and grandchildren until after the Christmas Holidays, in order that everyone could have a happy, joyful season. The radiation made him extremely tired but he never gave up. He was always hopeful that this thing would be cured and his strong faith in God kept him always steadfast.

Randy actually never really improved. He continually struggled to breathe and was placed on oxygen. He had to have a hospital bed because he had lost all of his strength to even move around. And he eventually could only get up to sit up on the side of the bed for only minutes.

It was extremely hard to watch him start to fade away from day to day when in only a few short months ago he was hiking up and down the mountains with no problems at all. My days were to make sure he was comfortable and to make sure that he knew just how much he was loved. Like I said before, he was diagnosed in January with a rare form of cancer and in June after all of the biopsies they confirmed that he had mesothelioma – and in August he passed away at home with me by his side during the very early morning.

I was just so overwhelmed by the entire illness and just how fast it took the life of the only man that I had truly loved and cherished. We were so fortunate to have been married for 40 years and to have a daughter and a son with three grandchildren. We had so much to look forward to, but this disease just took away everything we had planned for our family and took away the love of my life.

I would just like to remind everyone if they have been exposed to asbestos that they keep up with their health and make sure that all is well with their bodies. It took 40 years for this to show up in my husband, and that is what is so scary about this whole disease.

I am trying now to make a life for myself and trying to find out just what I am supposed to be at this point of my life. I was always a wife and now I am not. Still searching as to what I am supposed to be now. Thanks for reading my story, and I hope it does open someone’s eyes as to what this disease is all about.

This post was written by Kathy Branson exclusively for the MAA Center.