The following story is from my new friend Heather Von St. James, who contacted me through my website wanting to share her story. She is a true inspiration to all those who are facing personal challenges – that through Love, strength and determination you can overcome.
These three words have the power to strike absolute terror and fear into the very core of your being. Three and a half months prior to hearing these fateful and foreboding words, I had just had my baby. This should have been the best time in my life, and now I was being told that cancer plagued my body. To be more accurate, I had malignant pleural mesothelioma. Imagine my shock when I was told that this cancer is primarily caused by exposure to asbestos.
A slew of questions raced through my already tumultuous mind. Asbestos? Wait… isn’t that banned? When was I exposed? As these were my first thoughts, so are they the first questions that people ask when I tell them about my predicament. To answer the preliminary question: No, asbestos is not banned. As for the latter, the culprit was secondary exposure. My father worked in construction and did mainly drywall taping, mudding and sanding. Every day when he came home, asbestos traveled with him on his work clothes. Additionally, the asbestos containing dust was laden on the fabrics of his car and jacket. Here I had it: seemingly innocent white dust filled with millions of microscopic asbestos fibers was ruining my life and filling me with cancer.
Diagnosed at the age of 36, the Mayo Clinic had heard of only one other diagnosed at such a young age. Typical mesothelioma patients are older men who worked in the trades: plumbing, heating, electric or mechanics. Military men also were exposed to asbestos from the ships. Next on the list of typical mesothelioma patients come their wives. Scores of women doing their husbands’ laundry, shaking out the dust filled clothes before putting them in the washer were really just exposing themselves to cakes of asbestos. Schools were filled with asbestos in the past, and women who worked in those schools also found themselves battling this terrible disease.
Now the next generation of mesothelioma sufferers is starting to show up. I was the start of an alarming trend as more and more youths are being diagnosed with this deadly disease. Innocent children who unknowingly went to school in buildings with crumbling asbestos tiles and children who played in the vermiculite insulation contaminated with asbestos in the attic of so many homes are now facing these previously unknown. Little girls would jump into their daddy’s arms at the end of a long day to welcome him home and then put on his jacket to go feed the rabbits because she didn’t want to get hers dirty. Sadly, these daddy’s little girls didn’t know that they were contaminating themselves with asbestos.
The more I get involved in the mesothelioma community, the more young patients I am getting to know. Men and women in their late 20?s and early 30?s with this disease are popping up everywhere. They are just starting their lives. The joys of marriages, new babies, new jobs and first houses all come to a screeching halt as they forced to concentrate on beating mesothelioma instead. They want to be there to see their babies grow and spend time with their spouses. What’s the good news in all of this? More and more advances are coming out that help to treat mesothelioma. More and more people-of all ages-are going from sufferers to survivors.
Hearing that you have cancer is absolutely devastating. However, I continue to hold on to hope, as do many of us who are suffering from mesothelioma and so many other cancers. We come together as a community to share our experiences with cancer, to support one another through the time times, to cry when there is nothing else to do and to celebrate the joyous victories when one of us beats this disease for good.
Why do I do what I do? Why do I share this difficult story? I do it to raise awareness. Prevention is the best solution, and when prevention fails, people need faith, strength and support. If my story can offer hope to just one person who is newly diagnosed or living in fear of mesothelioma, then what I am doing is right.
To learn more about Heather, check out & “like” her new Facebook page dedicated to mesothelioma awareness & support! You can follow her journey: https://www.facebook.com/HeatherVonStJames?ref=hl