Copyright 1990-present Joe O'Shea, Jr.
With a little help from her DFCI
friends . . . .
By Joe O'Shea
While hemmed into a magnetic resonance imaging machine about 14 years
ago, Dana-Farber patient Margie Levine experienced the polarity-switching
pounding of the machine in a slightly offbeat way.
Fourteen years after her near-death experience with malignant pleural
mesothelioma - an aggressive thoracic cancer most frequently associated
with asbestos exposure - Levine is considered the longest-living, cancer-free
survivor of this disease, which typically carries a very bleak diagnosis.
"For my own career, I would consider Margie to be the patient
who demonstrated that what I was doing is worthwhile," says David
Sugarbaker, MD, of Medical Oncology, who performed the groundbreaking
surgery that has extended Levine's life. "What 'Jimmy' was to [DFCI
Founder] Sidney Farber, Margie Levine has been to me. Because of her,
I've devoted the rest of my career to this disease."
On May 1, Sugarbaker, division chief for Thoracic Surgery at Brigham
and Women's Hospital, performed similar surgery that was webcast live
as part of BWH's ongoing effort to educated surgeons and the public
about innovative surgical procedures.
When she learned of her condition, at age 43, Levine prepared for death
before engaging in a fight for life that continues to this day. Although
a pair of doctors had recommended end-of-life palliative care, the Newton
resident kept searching for someone who might work with her to combat
the vine-like cancer growing in her chest.
She found him in Sugarbaker, and together they felt the best chance
to prolong her life was to combine a pleurectomy (surgical removal of
the pleura, the lining of the lungs and inner chest wall) with an aggressive
chemotherapy wash of her chest cavity during surgery. Ideally, this
would scrub away the microscopic cancer cells that are "masters
at hiding in normal tissues in the local area," according to Sugarbaker.
"Fourteen years ago, this innovative therapy was akin to landing
on the moon," he recalls. "No one knew what was going to happen."
While her top-notch medical treatment was a major reason for her survival,
Levine believes the key to her ability to pull through such radical
surgery and to thrive in its aftermath has been her strong belief in
complementary healing therapies.
"I encourage people to reach out, take risks, and take charge of their own healing," says Levine, who has written "Surviving Cancer," a self-help book that's hit best-seller lists in Boston and beyond. "By fostering a strong mind-body connection through prayer, meditation and visualization, we can help ourselves so much."
Not just for cancer patients
"I believe the physical makeup of a patient, the biology of a
tumor, and the medical treatment received are the most important factors
in a positive outcome," says Karen Marcus, MD, who once treated
Margie and is now the division chief for Radiation Oncology at Children's
"Although I'm a strong believer in traditional medicine, I think complementary techniques and faith help give a person the will to live, the ability to get up in the morning," adds Marcus. "Scientifically, we can't measure the effects of complementary therapies, but emotionally they make a tremendous difference. Margie's decisions say a lot about her faith in humanity, which is something we can all learn from."
For more information, visit www.margielevine.com or contact Margie Levine at firstname.lastname@example.org, (617) 323-1800, or (508) 398-6234.