For over a decade, she battled cancer and supported other patients in their treatment journeys, refusing to let mesothelioma be the end of her story

In 2003, Ohio wife, mother, and grandmother Mary Jane Williams was diagnosed with mesothelioma, a rare and aggressive cancer caused by asbestos. While the diagnosis was life-changing, she felt relieved to finally have an explanation for her symptoms and decided that this cancer would not beat her.

Mary Jane survived mesothelioma until complications from progressive Alzheimer’s disease took her life in 2018. Today, years after her passing, we keep her mesothelioma survivor story forever in our memory.

Months of Medical Tests Lead to an Unexpected Diagnosis

For a year, Mary Jane struggled to pinpoint the reason for her disruptive symptoms, like abdominal bloating, sweating, and weight loss. She went to several doctors seeking answers, only to leave empty-handed.

“I kept thinking people are going to think that I’m a hypochondriac, but it got to the point where I couldn’t stand up straight. It was as if my insides were glued.”

- Mary Jane Williams, 15-year mesothelioma survivor

She was misdiagnosed with gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) and prescribed medication, but her symptoms persisted. When doctors decided to look at her gallbladder, they told her that it wasn’t functioning normally and would need to be removed.

During gallbladder surgery, doctors discovered peritoneal mesothelioma, a type of this cancer that develops in the lining of the abdomen and can spread to nearby organs.

When Mary Jane’s doctors told her mesothelioma was caused by asbestos, she couldn’t remember where she was exposed. “It could have been anywhere,” she said, recalling her husband Loring’s work at a flooring company that used asbestos tiles and the home renovations they did on their own.

Read more about Mary Jane’s journey and the stories of other survivors in our Free Mesothelioma Survivors Guide.

Finding the Right Specialist

After her diagnosis, Mary Jane became overwhelmed by the grim news surrounding mesothelioma at the time, including an average life expectancy of around 8 months after diagnosis. To make matters worse, the first doctor she saw told her there was nothing that could be done — no treatments would work in her case.

But Mary Jane refused to accept her prognosis and instead began searching for experienced mesothelioma specialists to help her beat this cancer.

“If your doctor is not a professional and has not lived it and breathed it, get another oncologist. You need someone experienced — someone who’s going to fight for you and with you.”

- Mary Jane Williams, 15-year mesothelioma survivor

After traveling from her home state of Ohio to visit a specialist in Nebraska, she knew she had to keep looking. So, she and Loring went to New York to meet with another doctor. After one visit, she felt a weight had lifted when she found the right fit.

Find a specialist who can help you fight mesothelioma with our Free Doctor Match program today.

Embracing a Life Free From Cancer

Mary Jane’s mesothelioma treatment plan consisted of surgery and chemotherapy. Her first surgery was in September 2003, followed by 5 months of chemotherapy.

In total, Mary Jane and Loring made 43 trips between Ohio and New York. Despite the fatigue, pain, and nausea from her chemotherapy, she was determined to stay positive, knowing that the medications were working.

“You’ve got to keep a positive attitude. You go through a whole lot of emotions. One day, you’re very up, and one day, you’re down. And you’re allowed to have your down days because that’s just normal.”

- Mary Jane Williams, 15-year mesothelioma survivor

In February 2004, she went in for her second surgery, and the surgeons found no evidence of tumors in her abdomen. Each tissue sample they took during surgery showed no presence of cancer cells, and Mary Jane was officially declared cancer-free.

The Healing Power of Mentorship

After beating mesothelioma, Mary Jane felt called to a new purpose — acting as a peer mentor for cancer patients receiving treatment. She became a familiar face in her oncologist’s office long after her own visits had ended and developed close friendships with other mesothelioma patients and survivors.

She sat alongside those recovering from surgery and receiving chemotherapy. Recalling her own treatment struggles, she supported patients through their ups and downs while also encouraging them to keep going with positivity.

“I did it. You can do it, too,” she told them. For those battling mesothelioma, she also explained the benefits of seeking legal help and pursuing legal compensation so they could afford the treatment they needed.

“You’re going to need the money for your treatment, your travel, and your follow-up scans for the rest of your life.”

- Mary Jane Williams, 15-year mesothelioma survivor

Initially, Mary Jane didn’t want to seek help from a mesothelioma lawyer, and she understood why others were hesitant. However, once she was faced with the cost of treatment and travel expenses, the decision was easy.

Learn how mesothelioma compensation helped Mary Jane and other survivors in our Free Mesothelioma Survivors Guide.

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Mary Jane Williams: Forever in Our Memories

By 2013, Mary Jane was 65 and had been cancer-free for nearly 10 years. But then she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, a progressive disease that affects memory and other mental functions.

She continued to spend as much time as possible with her beloved husband, children, and grandchildren, telling them that she would always be proud of them, even if one day she couldn’t remember them.

In 2018, Mary Jane passed away from Alzheimer’s complications, but she continues to live on through her family, friends, and all those she touched with her powerful story of survival.

Read More Stories of Hope and Survival

If you or a loved one is battling mesothelioma, many survivors will tell you that the most important thing to do is remain positive and hopeful. However, this may seem difficult when navigating treatment, symptoms, and so much more.

For this reason, Mesothelioma Hope is dedicated to walking alongside you in your journey, like Mary Jane did for so many others.

Call our Patient Advocates at (866) 608-8933 to get connected with doctors, treatments, and legal help near you. Or read more stories of hope in our Free Mesothelioma Survivors Guide.


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  • Tips for fighting mesothelioma
  • Navigating life after treatment

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Laura WrightWritten by:

Lead Editor

Laura Wright is a journalist and content strategist with more than 15 years of professional experience. She attended college at the University of Florida, graduating magna cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in journalism in 2008. Her writing has been featured in The Gainesville Sun and other regional publications throughout Florida.

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