After a marathon 10-hour surgery, perhaps the youngest woman to ever contract and overcome asbestos-related cancer may still enjoy motherhood.
Following an open cavity procedure, Danielle Smalley beat back the cancer that caused by ingesting asbestos fibers as a small child. Mesothelioma can take years or decades to manifest in the heart, lungs and abdomen after contact with asbestos. Smalley, now 23-years-old, wasn’t diagnosed with the aggressive illness until two decades after contact.
Doctors treating her case concluded her condition was so advanced that surgeons had to attempt a ground-breaking procedure that involved opening her body from chest to lower abdomen. The radical approach to cancer removal involved taking out her entire stomach lining, reorganizing her bowel and using healthy tissue from her diaphragm to replace the impacted areas.
While her cavity was open, doctors filled her abdomen with heated chemotherapy medications on three occasions to scrub her organs free of cancer cells. In what many considered a miraculous scientific achievement, Smalley received a clean bill of health before Christmas.
Mesothelioma can remainunseen for years
Having run the medical gamut between April and December of 2017, the Aldershot, England, women is one of the few fortunate people to overcome mesothelioma. Even when she sought medical treatment for symptoms, doctors attributed her discomfort to other ailments. After all, she had no significant asbestos-related background such as working in a factory or shipyard. Doctors initially thought she may have an ovarian cyst or irritated bowel.
Even after significant warning signs, physicians continued to speculate that she may just have a stomach blockage. They discovered numerous malignant tumors and cysts spread across her internal organs and stomach. Several months later, mesothelioma was diagnosed to the surprise of the medical world. Only two cases of people under the age of 25 from 2009 to 2016 have been discovered in the U.K.
“It’s unlikely we’ll ever find out where the asbestos was,” she said to reporters after the surgery. “It could have been anywhere.”
A new future
Despite what could have been a death sentence, Smalley’s doctors not only turned back the cancer, they took swift action to address her future fertility. They froze her eggs, potentially saving her motherhood.
“Amazingly, though, they were able to move my ovaries further back in my body and they were protected from the chemotherapy, so they think I will still be able to have children.”
Her story, and successful surgery, is a promising sign to the tens of thousands of people living with a mesothelioma diagnosis.