by Jessica Blackford-Cleeton
A large number of warriors diagnosed with mesothelioma are over the age of 65, but there are several cases of diagnosis in early adulthood. Michelle Baetiong is one of those cases. A young warrior at the age of 22 and in college at the time of diagnosis, Michelle did not let mesothelioma stop her from pursuing her dream of working in the television industry.
Michelle was attending St. John’s University in New York and studying communications when she started noticing persistent pain in her abdomen.
“It was very bizarre,” Michelle said. “I had pain on my ovary. I went to a doctor who said that I had a cyst the size of a plum on my right ovary. The doctor said that the best decision was just to get it removed. It all went downhill from there.”
During a laparoscopic surgery following the discovery of a cyst, her doctor also quickly discovered additional tumors under her ovary. Her right ovary was removed, and a subsequent biopsy of the tumors indicated ovarian cancer. It was then that Michelle made the hard decision to temporarily leave school to attend to her health.
“I received chemotherapy for 4 months and then they performed another laparoscopic surgery. That’s when they not only saw that the chemo didn’t work, but tumors also spread to my left ovary,” Michelle remembers.
Another surgery took 85% of Michelle’s left ovary. This time, four additional hospitals received tumor biopsies. Two hospitals still diagnosed her with ovarian cancer. The other two had a different finding: peritoneal mesothelioma.
Michelle then found a new doctor, new treatment options and had to wrap her mind around the fact that she was dealing with another cancer all together.
“My first thought of being diagnosed with ovarian scared me. I cried a lot. I lost my hair. I lost so much weight and just became weaker and weaker. When I was correctly diagnosed with peritoneal mesothelioma, I was angry and even more scared.”
Through her fear and anger, Michelle found hope. After numerous rounds of chemotherapy, several surgeries and help from the Mesothelioma Applied Research Foundation, Michelle was pronounced NED (No Evidence of Disease) on August 11, 2006.
“The minute my oncologist told me I was NED, I went right back into college to get my degree,” Michelle said. “Once I graduated, I was offered a job at NBC full time. I started off as an assistant to the Supervising/Executive Producer, then promoted to a Production Coordinator/Internship Supervisor and then to a Production Manager.”
Though pain and heartache comes with the territory of a mesothelioma diagnosis, Michelle found the strength to endure and pursue her dreams.
“I am currently a Production Manager for A&E Networks, specifically for Lifetime and FYI Network,” said Michelle. “I’ve always wanted to work in television. I loved the TV industry and I love business. I knew that one day I wanted to run a major network. I’m still not running one yet, but hopefully soon!”
Now that Michelle is hitting her career goals, she can focus on her other dream: becoming a mother.
“In between chemo treatments I went through the egg freezing process and had hormone injections for two weeks. My fertility specialist was able to retrieve only two eggs; this is because I only had 15% of my left ovary,” Michelle stated. “I definitely recommend freezing your eggs before ANY surgery or treatment. I wish I had more guidance back then. I wasn’t aware that every single surgery and each chemo treatment you go through just decreases your chance of fertility.”
Although the road has been hard, Michelle looks forward to fulfilling her dream of having children of her own.
“Motherhood to me is my opportunity to bring a child into this world and raise him or her in an environment full of love and happiness. I want to be able to raise my child and teach her the lessons I’ve learned in life and most importantly, love unconditionally.”
Michelle isn’t just a mesothelioma warrior. She is someone who gives hope to those both newly diagnosed with mesothelioma and those actively fighting the disease. Her story and survivorship is a testament. Although cancer takes a lot from those who live it, Michelle is gracefully able to see past the bad, and appreciate the life she has been given.
“[Mesothelioma] allowed me to love more, to forgive more, to smile more, to appreciate more. It gave me 7 beautiful scars on my stomach, which are also known as my ‘life lines.’ Everyone has a story, this is mine and I’m grateful for it and most importantly, proud.”
To read more mesothelioma survivor stories, visit curemeso.org/stories.