Monday, October 1, 2012

Guest Post Heather:Three Words That Struck Fear In Me

Three Words That Struck Fear In Me

“You have cancer.” These words, told to me by my doctor struck fear to the core of my being, as they have with countless others around the world. I heard these words when everything in my life was going so well. 3 and a half months prior to hearing these three words, I had a baby. Now, I was told I had cancer. To be more specific, I had malignant pleural mesothelioma. This is a cancer caused by exposure to asbestos.

My first thought was, isn’t asbestos banned? The question that I’m always asked is how I was exposed. First, asbestos isn’t banned. Second, I was exposed through secondary exposure. Asbestos was on the clothing my father wore in construction. He was responsible for drywall taping as well as mudding and sanding. This dust contained asbestos and he brought it home with him. What seemed like an innocent white dust on his clothes and in his car contained asbestos fibers.

At the age of 36, I was diagnosed. At this time, the Mayo Clinic had only discovered one other case in a person as young as I was. The average mesothelioma patient is considerably older. Typically, the person is male and one who has worked in the trades. This could be an electrician, plumber, mechanic or in the heating industry. It could also have been from military exposure from a ship. The wives of these men were also getting sick. These were the second-hand exposure cases like mine. The wives would be doing the laundry for their husbands, shaking out the clothes that were caked with this harmful particle.

There were also women working as secretaries who were exposed. The schools they worked in had tremendous amounts of asbestos in them.

The next generation of mesothelioma patients is starting to show up. Little did I know, I was the beginning of an alarming trend – the children. Children who were exposed because of their parents’ trades and children who went to the asbestos filled schools were getting sick. Children who hung out with their dads and would get into dad’s clothes were being exposed to asbestos and never knew better.

The more I research mesothelioma and get involved with the community, the more I see. Men and women in their late twenties and early thirties are being diagnosed. These are patients just getting started with their lives.

Lives are coming to a screeching halt, just as mine did. People are getting married, having babies and starting new jobs. That all ends when they must concentrate on overcoming mesothelioma as a full-time job.

There is a silver lining. Advances in mesothelioma treatment are being made to help overcome the disease. The survival rate is increasing every single year. It’s no longer a death sentence. These are people of every age.

Hearing that you have been diagnosed with cancer is devastating, but it’s not an instant death sentence. It’s critical to hold onto hope. I held onto hope when I got mesothelioma and I have known many others who have done the same. We have come together as a community to share our experiences with one another and to support one another. We can cry when things don’t work and celebrate victories when they do.

I have gone through the trials and tribulations associated with mesothelioma. At a time when all was supposed to be going well, I was diagnosed. I developed a support system to get through things and I want to make sure that others are able to do the same. I share my story over and over again to bring awareness to the community. Until more people are aware of what’s out there, nothing is going to change.

My hope is that my story will offer something for someone. Maybe it will offer a glimmer of hope to someone who has just been diagnosed with the cancer. Maybe it will stop someone from being fearful of the mesothelioma diagnosis. A diagnosis is horrible but it’s not the end of the world. Life must go on. If one person can learn this, then I know I’m doing the right thing by telling my story of surviving mesothelioma.

 *In Honor of  Mesothelioma Awareness Day that took place on September 26th

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