An Interview with Bonnie Anderson on the Importance of Mesothelioma Research

Bonnie Anderson

Diagnosed with mesothelioma in 2002, Bonnie Anderson is a 15-year warrior. Throughout this time, she and her husband, John, have been ardent supporters of the Meso Foundation and have established themselves as leading advocates within the mesothelioma community. Through the Mesothelioma Applied Research Foundation’s peer-review research grant program, they personally funded two research studies:

  1. Exploiting Nf2/Merlin as a therapeutic biomarker for mesothelioma, by Dr. Andrea McClatchey, Massachusetts General Hospital (The General Hospital Corp.)
  2. BAP1 Mesothelioma Mouse Models and Personalized Therapeutics, by Dr. Mitchell Cheung, The Research Institute of Fox Chase Cancer Center

In honor of National Cancer Research Month, we recently spoke with Bonnie to gain her perspective on why mesothelioma research is important to her and John, and why she believes it should be important for all patients and families affected by this cancer. Here’s what Bonnie had to say:

For those that do not know, can you give a brief background on your involvement with the Foundation?

When I was first diagnosed, I found the Meso Foundation on the internet. With limited choices and such different types of treatments available, I reached out to the executive director at the time, who spent so much time with me on the phone helping me in my decisions of where to go and which doctor to see. He calmed my ever rising anxiety whenever necessary.

Once I was able to get through all the treatment, we felt we had to give back to help other mesothelioma patients. Getting involved with the Foundation allowed us to help others. Mary Hesdorffer was my nurse back then and she helped patients support each other in the hospital. It made such a difference seeing these patients realize they were not alone and there were others who stayed alive and got through treatment. It’s not every cancer that has an organization like the Meso Foundation to back them up all the way. We owe my life to the help we received and plan to give back and pay it forward so others can have that support, too.

What does funding mesothelioma research mean to you?

We were by no means wealthy; we married very young with no money and a baby. We saved every raise and 401K getting a nest egg for retirement, so getting meso was going to be a kick in the wallet, especially since our insurance first approved then rejected my treatment. Thinking we would have to take out a second mortgage on our home and use all our savings was something we had to face. Luckily, we fought insurance and at the last moment won our appeal. It was not easy, especially when we were in such a panic. Since treatment was so limited, we decided I should enroll in a clinical trial. I mean, if I could do good for others with meso, why not, I was going to die anyway. Surprise, I not only survived the most horrendous treatments, I have survived meso for all these years. I have no regrets that I helped researchers; they learned an awful lot from my trial. Ongoing mesothelioma research is the only thing that will find a better treatment and hopefully a cure. We want to help save patients’ lives, and that’s why we not only fund research but also get politically involved so the government will continue to fund the National Institutes of Health and mesothelioma research. We live simply, enjoying what we can while living with pain, anxiety, and, yes, meso still growing in me. We can think of no better way to help than to give each year in order for the wonderful mesothelioma researchers to continue their work.

Why is research important to patients and families?

Without research, there are no options except to give in to this cancer. Neither patients nor families need to give up. There is tomorrow and tomorrow may just bring that breakthrough.

What are some things that the mesothelioma community can do to get involved and help advance research?

First of all, give your time. Reach out and support others. So many patients end up in clinical trials, and if you’ve been through this disease, help them get through it. As most of us know, as patients, you learn who is really in your life, who supports you and who drops out of sight when you need that support. Speak to people and educate them about this disease. Educate your doctors; your general practitioner just may have a patient who receives the same diagnosis and needs a mesothelioma specialist. Give to research, whether it’s straight out of your wallet or through a fundraiser. Without research, patients may not be able to live longer lives.

You can support mesothelioma research now by making a donation to the Mesothelioma Applied Research Foundation at curemeso.org/donate.

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