I interrupt my regularly scheduled (or maybe not so regularly scheduled lately – I’ve been so busy) blogs full of introspection and emotion, to bring you one of far more importance… I’m participating in Taking A Moment for Mesothelioma, a grass roots effort to spread awareness of the deadly disease through blog posts.
I always thought of mesothelioma as a disease of older men – maybe those who worked construction or even 9/11 rescue workers. Though there’s a ton of cancer in my family, there hasn’t been any mesothelioma (knock on wood a million times!!), so I have to admit – I didn’t know much about it, other than the commercials from law firms promising a big payback if you’ve been diagnosed.
“Meeting” Cameron Von St. James and his family changed that. (I wrote meeting in quotes, because we met on my blog when he commented on my story of a friend who passed away of lung cancer.) I learned that mesothelioma can strike anyone, including young mothers (although it is four times more common in men and veterans are the most likely victims). Cameron’s lovely wife, Heather Von St. James, was diagnosed with mesothelioma when their daughter, Lily, was only three months old. She was given just fifteen months to live, but thanks to lifesaving surgery (which included the removal of her left lung), she’s not only alive eight years later, but thriving.
Cameron and Heather have used Heather’s miraculous recovery (most mesothelioma patients are given merely ten months to live at the time of diagnosis) as a springboard to educate others. I’m happy to help spread their message of awareness. Mesothelioma is a little understood disease, but it is one of the few cancers that is entirely preventable. In that light, awareness truly saves lives.
Did you know that mesothelioma is the most common occupational cancer in the United States, with almost 3,000 new cases every year, even though it’s over thirty years since it has been widely used? This is because it can take thirty to sixty years for the symptoms of mesothelioma to show up after asbestos exposure. Sadly (and surprisingly), asbestos still isn’t banned in the United States. And, asbestos poses the biggest risk when it’s worn or damaged, causing fibers to flake off and become airborne. This means that older homes, buildings and even schools may have this hidden danger lurking in the walls and the air, especially since no amount of asbestos exposure is safe and it’s even possible to have second hand exposure from fibers that are on someone else’s clothing or other items.
There are three types of mesothelioma – pleural, peritoneal and pericardial. Unfortunately, all of the types of mesothelioma are difficult to diagnose, because the symptoms mimic other less deadly ailments. A delayed diagnosis can greatly reduce chances of survival, so it pays to know the symptoms:
- Lower back pain or side chest pain (about 60% of patients experience this)
- Shortness of breath
- Difficulty swallowing
- Persistent cough
- Fever, weight loss
- Muscle weakness
- Loss of sensory capability
- Coughing up blood
- Facial and arm swelling
- Abdominal Pain
- Weight Loss
- Fluid buildup in the abdomen, as a result of the cancer
- Heart palpitations or irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia)
- Difficulty breathing, even when at rest (dyspnea)
- Shortness of breath when lying flat
- Chest pain
- Fever or night sweats
I hope that this post increases awareness and perhaps even saves a life. If even one person reads this and thinks, “Hmm, perhaps I should go to the doctor,” or implores a loved one to see a physician, it is well worth the time and effort – and the short break from my personal essays. For more information, please visit mesothelioma.com.
Cameron, Lily and Heather Von St. James
Heather and Lily Von St. James