Plaintiff recounts ordeal with mesothelioma in Johnson & Johnson, Colgate-Palmolive trial

By John Sammon | May 8, 2019

OAKLAND – Plaintiff Patricia Schmitz on Monday told a jury about the suffering that goes with having mesothelioma, but said she would keep fighting the disease that has robbed her of the ability to do most simple tasks.

“What is your understanding of this disease?” Joseph Satterley, Schmitz’s attorney, asked.

“There is no cure for it,” Schmitz said. “People don’t live very long with this disease. I have enough people around me who are hopeful and believe in miracles, and they have helped keep me up.”

“Are you going to keep fighting?” Satterley asked.

“I’m going to give it my best shot,” Schmitz said. “Last week, I told Ashley (daughter) it’s easier to die. Then three days later I didn’t mean it anymore. So yeah, I’ll keep fighting.”

The trial in the Alameda County Superior Court is being streamed live courtesy of Courtroom View Network.

Schmitz is suing Johnson and Johnson for its baby powder and Colgate-Palmolive for an adult face powder called Cashmere Bouquet, claiming the products caused her to develop mesothelioma, a deadly cancer of the linings of the lungs. Hundreds of such cases filed against Johnson & Johnson are pending across the country, most filed by women who developed ovarian cancer, although mesothelioma cases have recently increased.

Schmitz, 61, a mother of two and a grandmother, was an elementary school teacher until she was diagnosed with mesothelioma last year. She said she had used the Johnson & Johnson powder in childhood but then switched to Cashmere Bouquet at about the time she entered high school. She continued using the product until her late 40s.

“Did you have any indication it was dangerous?” Satterley asked.

“Absolutely not,” Schmitz said.

She said the ordeal began with what was thought to be a sinus condition that wouldn’t improve, which led her to suspect she had pneumonia. Chest X-rays were taken that showed cancer. Schmitz said her treating doctors never asked her about her history of talc powder use.

“They (doctors) seemed disinterested,” she said.

Chemotherapy was administered and the adverse side effects became apparent, Schmitz said.

“I thought this is as bad as it will get, but it (chemo) is a cumulative poison,” she said. “I took to my bed and wouldn’t get out for three or four days. I would have more decent days, then it would start in again (bad days).”

A cancer immunotherapy drug called Keytruda was tried.

Schmitz said the cancerous mass in her lung continued to grow and though the pain would subside at times, it would return, with shooting pains requiring the use of narcotics.

“The side effects were extreme weakness and fatigue, and so many narcotics are also constipating,” she said. “I couldn’t take a sip of water without having my chest on fire. I lost 11 pounds last week.”

Schmitz added the condition seemed as if her brain was telling her to eat certain foods, but her body was saying no.

“Can you go upstairs without stopping?” Satterley asked.

“No,” Schmitz said. “Some times in the middle of the night are my best times, but I have to stop (on stairs) three or four times.”

On Tuesday, Satterley questioned plaintiff expert witness Dr. David S. Egilman, a Massachusetts pulmonologist, asking him if asbestos was a well-established carcinogen.

“Yes,” Egilman responded.

Egilman agreed that asbestos-related minerals including tremolite, chrysotile, amosite, crocidolite, anthophyllite and actinolite were also carcinogens.

“Do you have an opinion on fibrous talc?” Satterley asked.

“Yes,” Egilman said. “It is a carcinogen. It has a chemical structure similar to anthophyllite.”

“Asbestiform talc is a class-one carcinogen?”

“Yes,” Egilman said.

Egilman said the amount of asbestos exposure it takes to get cancer can be really low and there is no minimum safe level recognized. He added that some people prove to be sensitive to low doses more than others with higher exposures, asbestos workers for example.

“Others get sick with just a little (asbestos) exposure and we don’t know why,” Egilman said.

Egilman indicated that prior studies tracking exposure-to-disease among groups have been inadequate, not tracking enough people over a long enough period of time to make conclusive determinations.

He said cosmetic talc powder had no health benefit and a product with risk should not be sold. He added that if a person wanted to eliminate sweat, corn starch was better than talc powder.

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