“If, then, I were asked for the most important advice I could give, that which I considered to be the most useful to the men of our century, I should simply say: in the name of God, stop a moment, cease your work, look around you.”
― Leo Tolstoy
(image courtesy Phyllis Snipes, Ohau, Hawaii/ 2014)
Today is Friday, Sepember 26, 2014.
Just another ol day for so many of us on this planet.
Yet. . .
for others, today is a day of great significance and importance.
Perhaps it is a birthday, a wedding day, a new job day, a new move day, a new relationship day. Perhaps it is a day offering new joy, a day of wonder, a day of homecomings, a day of expectations, a day of anticipation. . .
or. . .
for some. . .perhaps it is a day of loss, of sadness, of goodbye’s, of grave diagnosis. . .
Today, a day for those who suffer, have suffered or will suffer from the ravages of cancer, in particular mesothelioma, today is a day of Awareness.
September 26, 2014 is the 10th anniversary of Mesothelioma Awareness Day.
And why, you wonder, is Cookie showcasing this day. . .
Flashback two weeks ago.
Imagine my surprise when I received a request on my blog from a certain Cameron Von St. James asking if I would please e-mail him as he had a question. I thought that request a bit unusual as I usually don’t receive the asking of questions as folks typically just comment, reply or like whatever is going on in cookieland.
Curious, I emailed Cameron.
Cameron responded with an introduction.
He is a husband and a father who wanted to ask if I could help him with a particular quest he was / is currently waging.
His wife Heather is a mesothelioma survivor.
He was asking if I could help highlight this vicious cancer by offering some information, etc. with a post on my blog, hopefully coinciding with the official awareness day.
Having lost my mom to lung cancer 28 years ago, I am always more than happy to help bring awareness to the continuing battle we wage against all forms of Cancer.
My first introduction to Mesothelioma came in a rather round about way many years ago when I just was a new young teacher. I was teaching in a school that had already seen a good bit of wear and tear as it had been built around 1963. It was not uncommon for buildings and even houses, which were built early to mid century, to be insulated with asbestos. Asbestos was a desirable building material because it was a natural occurring mineral mined in abundance, it was cheap, it was a super insulator as well as sound barrier plus it stood up to the damaging effects which could be caused by fire, electrical mishaps and or water.
My classroom’s ceiling was coated in asbestos, as were several other classrooms, as well as the school’s cafeteria ceiling. One summer, about my 3rd year at the school, we saw some major work done by the State to rid the school of any and all asbestos as its potential for health concerns had become paramount.
It seems that there is even documentation that the ancient Romans had raised health concerns over the use of asbestos. Even our own scientific and medical communities began raising red flags back in the 1920’s and 30’s. Finally here it was the early 1980’s and the Government was just getting around to ridding schools, buildings and homes of this potential health hazard. Alas the Government has never been known for speed.
That summer long ago, the men in the little white hazmat suits and hoods invaded our school. My classroom, as well as other areas of the building, were sealed and cordoned off complete with warning tape, plastic sheeting and signs with grave health warnings.
It was that big a deal.
Here were these men walking around fully incased in special suits as the teachers, on the other-hand, were milling about in average clothing. A twilight moment of the surreal to be sure.
We were assured however that as long as the asbestos material, in our case the sprayed layer coating our ceiling, was not “disturbed”– scratched, rubbed or agitated to create dust particles, we were fine.
Whenever the Government tells me “I’m fine”—that’s when I worry.
I didn’t think much else about that summer or asbestos again until my mom died of lung cancer several years later. If you’ve ever watched a loved one fight and die battling cancer, you, the survivor somehow develop a deep seceded paranoia. Even though I am adopted, watching my mom suffer, I had that whole transference thing going on. I felt doomed to her fate. She was young when she died, 53. Would I ever live past her age?
Stupid, silly and unfounded, but yet very real.
If she was robbed of happiness and of her life, why should I be afforded anything different or better?
That sadly was my mind set.
It was also my dad’s— as throughout the 28 years since her death, any ache or pain, he’s been convinced it’s cancer.
That’s what cancer does—it not only robs those who actually develop cancer of joy and life, it robs the living as well.
When Cameron contacted me, asking for my help, I began to rack my brain on what I knew about Mesothelioma.
I knew it was a cancer that was somehow connected to the exposure of asbestos.
I had seen the commercials concerning the legal rights of it’s victims on television.
The victims seemed to be older men who were somehow connected to having served in the military or did construction work.
Why that was, was still a mystery to me.
I then tried to figure out a correlation between what I knew and how a young woman who was a wife and a mother up in Roseville, Minnesota could somehow contract such a cancer.
Cameron was kind enough to provide a link about Heather and her battle.
Eight years ago Heather was diagnosed with the cancer and given 15 months to live.
Mesothelioma is a rather rare cancer affecting roughly 3000 victims yearly. It also comes with a very grime prognosis as there is no cure.
When Heather was diagnosed it was shortly after she and Cameron had welcomed their daughter Lily into the world. I can only imagine the tremendous roller coaster of emotions of going from the joy of becoming new young parents, to being handed an out of the blue death sentence of maybe 15 months to live. My mom was given 6 months yet barely survived 6 weeks. Guessing games with life expectancy is never reassuring nor encouraging.
Yet I was curious.
How in the world did a vibrant young wife and mother contract a cancer that was / is more common in those who are older as well as effecting those who have been either members of the military or those who worked in the construction field?
It seems that after watching Heather’s short video, I learned it was from her dad, who was a construction worker who had spent a lifetime working with sheetrock, otherwise known as drywall, that Heather had been exposed. Heather’s dad would spend his days sanding asbestos ladened drywall, only to come home each evening covered, unbeknownst to him, with a potentially lethal fine white powder. Heather, each evening greeting her dad, welcoming him home after a hard day’s work, was exposed to millions of deadly dust particles which in turn insidiously invaded her young body. Heather’s was a type of second hand exposure. She was not the one doing the initial sanding but yet it was from the residual dust that she was effected. Why it affects some and yet bypasses others remains a mystery.
Upon further investigation, I discovered that the damage done to the lungs and pulmonary system can sit for years in one’s body without warning signs or symptoms–as was the case with Heather—she was 36 when she became symptomatic and was eventually diagnosed, yet she had been exposed many years prior.
Heather was sent to Boston for treatment from one of the leading facilities in the Country which works with Mesothelioma patients. She underwent grueling treatments, with the loss of one lung being a big part of her treatment. She was unable to care for her young daughter as Cameron, who had to remain back home much of the time in order to work, was unable to be by the side of his ill wife nor could he be with his young daughter who now was staying with Heather’s family in South Dakota. Cancer does not care whether families get to stay together or not. Nor does it care whether families can financially absorb the catastrophic costs to wage such a battle.
This is in part why days like today are so important. They help raise our awareness, concern, and hopefully the necessary funding to help better fight this stealthy enemy and help work toward a cure.
There is more information available out there on the internet regarding the particulars of Mesothelioma, which I won’t repeat here as it is not my desire to parrot clinical history or statistics but rather it is my desire to bring attention to this cancer and to the faces of those who it effects.
(a recent picture of Heather, Cameron and Lily)
In this case the cancer not only effected Heather, it effected Cameron and their daughter Lily as well as both of their families. . .Just as it continues to affect countless numbers of other unsuspecting individuals and families. That is why, a day such as today, Friday September 26th, is important. This is a day which hopefully will bring more and more awareness to Mesothelioma and of it’s devastating smothering blanket it casts indiscriminately.
May you use today, this day of national awareness, to do a little investigating of your own. May we use today as a day to learn, to teach, to help, to pray and to work toward bringing more focus on this cancer and its gravity- – – so that little girls like Lily may always enjoy living life with their beautiful moms like Heather.