My Mesothelioma Journey
I was in shock the first time I heard those three terrifying words: “You have cancer.” How was it possible? I’d had a baby a little over three months earlier. I’d just brought a whole new life into the world, and now I was hearing that I had a disease that might kill me. The type of cancer I had was malignant pleural mesothelioma. It’s mainly caused by asbestos exposure.
As it turns out, most people think asbestos has been banned, but it hasn’t. People always want to know when I could have been exposed to it. It turns out that like a lot of people, I am a victim of secondary asbestos exposure. As a construction worker, my father brought home asbestos fibers every day in his car and on his clothes.
The Mayo Clinic had only heard of a single other case of mesothelioma being diagnosed in someone as young as me. I was 36 at the time. Most people who got mesothelioma were older men who’d been plumbers or electricians, who’d done any type of construction or who had been exposed to asbestos while in the military. When the first cases of secondary exposure started to appear, it still wasn’t among younger people; it was the wives of those men. Maybe they were exposed when washing their husband’s clothes. Other women diagnosed were those who had worked for years as teachers and secretaries in schools with asbestos.
As it turns out, my case was one of the first in what became a frightening wave of mesothelioma cases among younger people. So many people were exposed in schools as children or at home when asbestos was used for attic insulation. Plenty of other children like me, who loved their fathers so much, who spent so much time around them when they got home from working around those deadly fibers, were exposed as well.
More and more of those children are growing up now and, in their 20s and 30s, are being diagnosed with this awful disease. I am meeting more of them the longer I am in the mesothelioma community. They’re just starting their adult lives, and they should be preoccupied with new families and careers, but instead they’re battling cancer.
But there is some good news. Treatments are improving. People are surviving. Mesothelioma isn’t a death sentence. It is a terrifying thing to learn that you have a disease like this, but within the mesothelioma community, no one is alone. People who are all going through the same thing are there to support one another in the good times and the bad.
So many people still don’t know about this kind of cancer, though. This is why I keep sharing my story. My aim is to spare others from some of the fear and suffering caused by a cancer diagnosis and offer hope that people do survive and go on to live full and happy lives.
I want to give her a big thank you for sharing her journey with us, and here are some photos she shared: