Thursday, October 4, 2012

Guest Post: Surviving Cancer from Asbestos


I don't typically run guest posts around these parts, but when Heather contacted me about a message that she wanted to share with a wider audience, I was honored to share this space with her. I think a lot about environmental toxins--in our furniture, mattresses, Tupperware, pots and pans, paint, makeup--and it scares the daylights out of me. It scares me because asbestos was once considered to be a miracle product. Which of today's everyday materials will turn out to be a killer in a couple decades? Without further ado, here's Heather with her story:


Triumph Over Tragedy 

When I heard those three dreadful words—“You have cancer”—talk about total devastation. My life was great prior to the heart-breaking diagnosis. I should have been enjoying the newness of being a mom to my three-and-a-half month old, but the pleasure was cut short after I had learned the worst. I was diagnosed with pleural mesothelioma, a type of cancer associated with exposure to asbestos.

“But I thought asbestos was banned” is what I hear frequently along with the puzzled looks on the faces of those who I share my story with. Following this statement is the question “Were you exposed to asbestos?” Yes, I was. Secondhand.

My father worked in construction. He performed primarily mudding, sanding and drywall taping jobs with materials that contained asbestos. His clothing, skin, hair and anything else with direct contact, absorbed the dust from those materials. Thus, I was exposed in different ways by physical contact from his jacket, clothes, car, etc. The white dust, just by appearance, seemed harmless though it contained millions of poisonous asbestos fibers that would later prove hazardous to not only him.

I was diagnosed with pleural mesothelioma at 36 years old. The Mayo Clinic had only learned of one prior case of someone at my young age having this type of cancer.  Mesothelioma is typically believed to affect older tradesmen in the lines of heating, plumbing, mechanics, electricians and other construction-related fields. However, numbers of women have now begun falling ill as they were exposed to the fibers through doing their husbands’ laundry. Moreover, women who worked in schools that had asbestos tiles in them weren’t immune either.

The diagnosis among a younger generation—children of men and women exposed to asbestos—has been on the rise. Those schools that were built with contaminated materials put children at risk. The tiles and insulation of the attics these children played in or around contained the fibers of this deadly cancer. Children who greeted their fathers with hugs after a long day’s work were easily exposed to this monster in disguise. Children who wore their father’s polluted work jackets or tagged along with their dads because of the special feeling it gave them were innocently affected.

With time, I have grown to learn more about this monstrosity and how it has affected men and women of a younger generation in addition to the older generation; people who are newlyweds, have great jobs and families, who have to manage their life-threatening illness while maintaining their households and careers. Also with time has come the advancement of treatments. More people are surviving this cancer than ever.

To hear those three words is a devastating blow to anyone. My hope is fierce, and the support of a community of people who have been affected provides a cushion of support we all need. Sharing our experiences give us strength to endure, shoulders to cry on when we need them and allows for celebration of triumphs for those who have overcome.

I share my story to create awareness. I share my story to uplift. Without awareness there is no hope. At the end of the day if my story has shined a light at the end of a tunnel for anyone suffering from mesothelioma, I have made an impact.

Check out the video, What is Mesothelioma? for more information.

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1 comment:

Maureen said...

What a moving and powerful post, thank you so much. This is important stuff to learn and very scary. We have a lot of asbestos in our house, some of which my husband removed prior to our daughter being born. He was careful, but it still made me so so nervous. You're incredibly brave and I wish you all the best in your fight!

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