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Navy veteran Larry Belfer has compromised, but never conceded to the rare but aggressive cancer that has changed his life dramatically.
It’s a lesson in perseverance he has taught to those around him. Malignant pleural mesothelioma may have altered his course and changed his pace, but it never stole his zest for living.
Every day can still be a good day.
“I’m happy to be alive. I still approach each day like something good is going to happen, and generally, it does,” he said from his home in Southern California. “I just look for something positive.”
Belfer, 76, was diagnosed in 2012 with mesothelioma, a cancer that begins in the thin lining surrounding the lungs, and grows through other parts in the chest cavity. There is no cure, and patients typically live only another 9-18 months.
Belfer underwent aggressive surgery shortly after diagnosis at the West Los Angeles VA Medical Center, along with chemotherapy, radiation and cryoablation, which gave him a fighting chance to survive beyond the norm.
“I didn’t know originally what mesothelioma was. I went numb when I first found out,” he said. “At some point, though, I just decided, I’ll deal with it, and just kept moving. It made me appreciate life a little more, each and every day.”
Hiking Was A Passion Before and After Cancer
Belfer spent much of his earlier life as an aerospace engineer, living an active lifestyle that included things like climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest peak; touring ancient Inca sites above a Peruvian jungle; and archeological digs on remote islands in the South Pacific.
Although those days are long gone, he stays active today, taking slower, flatter and shorter walks. He walks on Redondo Beach every day, often two miles out and two miles back, resting on the benches along the boardwalk, where he sits and enjoys the sights and sounds of a much younger crowd.
His breathing is shorter now. His endurance is limited by comparison. His strength is a fraction of what he remembers it once was. Yet his zest for living never has been better. And his insistence on a daily exercise routine never has been stronger.
“I get out every day,” he said. “That’s a given.”
Teaching Others To Adapt
He was asked to be one of the speakers at the 2014 Pacific Mesothelioma Center Symposium, which is hosted by renowned thoracic surgeon Dr. Robert Cameron of the UCLA Medical Center. He was Belfer’s surgeon.
“I just told people there, you can’t dwell on your illness. You go about your business as best you can. The disease is not going away, but just live your life,” he said. “It doesn’t do any good to just think about the disease every minute, or every day. Keep moving, and keep active.”
Mesothelioma is caused almost exclusively by an exposure to asbestos, which likely happened to Belfer during his service as a young man in the Navy. Almost 30 percent of mesothelioma patients served in the military, where asbestos was once so prevalent because of its ability to fireproof and strengthen almost everything.
Once inhaled or ingested, microscopic asbestos fibers can lie dormant for 30-50 years before the mesothelioma develops and a diagnosis is made.
“Every day is a new day for me. I tell people, stay positive. Go for a walk and enjoy the view,” he said. “I’ve enjoyed my life. No regrets in any way. And I intend to enjoy as many days as I get.”
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