September 26th is Mesothelioma Awareness Day (MAD). This day is meant to help spread awareness for mesothelioma cancer, celebrate those that have lost their lives to it, and spread hope to those that are fighting their battle. It’s also a day for education–so that we can protect ourselves from the danger that causes mesothelioma!
What is mesothelioma?
You might wonder, what is mesothelioma? Maybe you’d seen commercials or heard ads, but mesothelioma is much more than that. It is a very rare and aggressive that affects the mesothelium tissue found in a few different locations in the body. If can affect the lungs (pleural), abdomen (peritoneal) or heart (pericardial). Annually, about 3,000 people per year are diagnosed with mesothelioma, and about 2,500 will die from this disease.
Mesothelioma is very hard to detect. With a long latency period of 20-50, most who have this cancer do not experience symptoms for decades. When symptoms begin to occur they are easily mistaken for common ailments. Mesothelioma symptoms include shortness of breath, trouble breathing, hoarseness, nausea, vomiting, and weight loss. Due to this, mesothelioma is often misdiagnosed and/or diagnosed in the final stages.
With that being said, the prognosis for mesothelioma is rather grim. Most people diagnosed are given 12-24 months to live. This varies based on age, type and a variety of other factors. Once diagnosed, it’s important to come up with a plan for your treatment. Common options are surgery, chemotherapy and radiation (usually a combination), but there are also new emerging treatments and immunotherapies that can be used!
A survivor’s story
While most people are not diagnosed with mesothelioma until much later in life, due to the long latency period, Heather Von St. James, was diagnosed at the young age of 36. Her diagnosis came just three months after giving birth to her daughter, Lily. She was told that she had 15 months to live. How does one deal with those odds? Heather has said, “When hope is in the equation, the odds don’t matter.”
Upon realizing the severity of her cancer, Heather decided she must continue to have the positive outlook she always had on life–a view through rose-colored lenses. She has a beautiful baby girl to live for, and a husband who was there no matter what. Her family and friends created a wonderful support system that helped get her through the toughest of times.
When treatments (surgery, chemotherapy and radiation) took a toll on her body, she had her support system, her faith and her hope to fall back on. As a ten-year mesothelioma survivor, Heather makes it her mission to tell her open and honest story, through the ups and downs, in hopes to inspire others who are battling. Spreading hope means the world to her. “I’ve made it to the 10-year mark, a year I was told I might not live to. I’ve made it my mission to share the hope of survival with others—not just surviving, but truly living a good life despite a cancer diagnosis. I’ve shared the good moments along with the struggles, always being as real and honest as possible. I’ve mourned the loss of more friends than I ever dreaded I would.”
Heather also makes it her mission to fight for justice. She lobbies Congress so that hopefully one day, people will not have to go through what she went through. She fights to one day live in a country where asbestos is a banned substance, that cannot deteriorate the health of any person. “This is why I fight for a ban, why I go to Washington with The Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization and The Environmental Working Group. My voice as a victim of asbestos is a strong one, and people listen. We won’t stop until we know Washington is listening. Mesothelioma may not be curable, but it is preventable. We will continue to educate, to inform, and to fight until there is a ban.”
To learn more about Heather’s story, click here!
Want to make a difference?
Mesothelioma is caused by exposure to asbestos. When the material is disturbed and inhaled it has extremely averse side effects. Asbestos is a naturally occurring fiber, that is mined and was once thought of as a very beneficial material. It is heat and fire resistant, making it great for insulation, and other construction materials. (See list of common places to find asbestos!) However, after finding out it’s extremely toxic properties, over sixty countries have banned the use of asbestos, and products containing asbestos.
The United States is not one of those countries. Unfortunately, asbestos is still able to be used (while there are restrictions). It also still exists in many school, commercial buildings and residential homes, which is a huge health concern. A big part of Mesothelioma Awareness Day is to educate people and spread awareness for asbestos–the root cause of mesothelioma. It’s also to urge our nation to rally together to make sure asbestos is banned, once and for all! You can find a running list of petitions on the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization (ADAO) website here! You can make a difference by signing your name!
You can also make a difference by educating your loved ones on the dangers of asbestos. It is unfortunately a substance that can be found all over, but if you’re cautious you can avoid it! The saddest part of mesothelioma is that it’s preventable, so make a difference by helping others prevent it!
This post was written and contributed by Heather Von St. James