Monday, August 27, 2012

Guest Post: Hope after Mesothelioma Cancer

I was contacted recently by Heather Von St. James, a survivor of Mesothelioma cancer (cancer caused by asbestos exposure).  She asked me about "guest" posting on my blog, to educate parents about this form of cancer and the dangers of exposure to toxic chemicals/substances in the enviornment.  After reading her story on her blog (for more about her storysee, I am happy to introduce to you Heather Von St. James & her guest post below in hopes that it helps others. 

Heather Von St. James offers a message of courage, inspiration and hope to those diagnosed with mesothelioma cancer. In fact she considers herself to be a “poster child for hope after mesothelioma” as she is now a 5 year survivor of this often fatal asbestos disease. This is her story of survival and hope.

Cancer. Just hearing the word inspires a sense of dread, doesn't it? It does for many people. But personally, the word 'cancer' makes me angry-- angry enough to fight. Cancer tried to sink its claws into me at one of the worst times possible. I had just had a baby 3 1/2 months prior, and I was diagnosed with malignant pleural mesothelioma; a cancer caused primarily by asbestos exposure.

Most people, when I tell them, are pretty confused. "Asbestos? Isn't that banned?" is usually the response I get. To answer simply: no. That question is usually followed by the question "where were you exposed?" I don't blame them for being curious, I am by no means the typical asbestos exposure patient. Asbestos exposure-- and the mesothelioma that commonly follows-- is found primarily in older males who have worked with plumbing, heating, and shipyards, as well as electricians and mechanics.

I was exposed to asbestos from my father's work clothes. He was a construction worker who primarily did sanding, drywall taping, and mudding. The dust on his work clothes contained asbestos, and when he came home he brought home microscopic asbestos fibers on his clothes. They were on his jacket, in his car...all covered with a layer of white dust that seemed harmless.

I was rather young when I was diagnosed, 36 years old. The Mayo clinic had only heard of one other case in someone so young. As I've said, the typical mesothelioma patient is much older...but these patients often have wives and children. Once the actual asbestos-exposed workers started pouring in, their families soon followed in droves. Wives were next. Years and years of exposure to their husband's contaminated dusty clothes...doing their husbands' dirty laundry, shaking out the dust-caked clothes before washing them. Then, women who worked as secretaries in schools started to come in. The schools, often decades old, were starting to wear and tear-- and they were made of materials containing asbestos. Of course, this means the next generation of mesothelioma sufferers is starting to show up. I was the start of an alarming trend.

The children were next. Children who went to schools made with asbestos tiles, children who played in one of the millions of homes across America that are still insulated with asbestos fibers, especially in dusty attics that are fun to explore and play dress-up in on lazy sunny afternoons. Children who would race to the door, jump into their father's arms, and crawl into daddy's lap and fall asleep with him on the couch when he got home from a long day of work. Children whose fathers would hold them close, not knowing how toxic of an embrace it was. The more I get involved in the mesothelioma community, the more young patients I am getting to know. These young children are now young men and women in their late 20’s and early 30’s who are starting to discover they have the disease. They're also just starting their lives. Marriages, babies, and new jobs are all being put on hold to beat the disease. Fortunately, more and more advances are being made in mesothelioma treatment.

So, in turn, cancer does not strike fear in me. It gives me the anger, the rage I need to keep fighting against this disease for me, and for my baby. So that I can fight to stay in my baby's life, and be the best mother I can for as long as I can. I, like many others who have mesothelioma, am dedicated to fighting back and sharing my story to spread awareness. Until there is more awareness nothing will change. If my story can offer hope to someone newly diagnosed, or stop someone from living in fear of mesothelioma, then I have done something right.

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