Today, September 26th, is the 10th annual World Mesothelioma Awareness Day. I was approached by Heather Von St. James, who came across the health writing on my blog (ah, the good fun of complicated medical lives) and asked me to write a piece to help spread awareness and eventually eradicate this terrible disease. Heather wrote,
“Eight years ago, I was diagnosed with mesothelioma; a rare cancer caused by exposure to asbestos. I had just given birth to my daughter, Lily, and was only given 15 months to live. After a life saving surgery that included the removal of my left lung, I’m thriving more than ever.
Since I’m one of a few survivors, my family has made it our lives mission to spread awareness of mesothelioma: a PREVENTABLE disease that takes so many innocent lives. In honor of the 10th annual Mesothelioma Awareness Day (September 26) we are asking bloggers to help us spread the word by dedicating a blog post to share some eye opening facts and statistics you didn't know about mesothelioma.”
So, like most Information Age researchers, I started with a Google search. Then checked back to Heather’s email to make sure I spelled it right. The asbestos cancer? In someone my age? Yup. My only previous acquaintance with mesothelioma was Sal, a man in his sixties I met on my mission in Texas who had worked with asbestos in the merchant marines. I have mentally put asbestos-related disease as kind of a thing of the past. Asbestos is only in old buildings, right? But worldwide mesothelioma cases are expected to reach their peak around the year 2020, because although the peak asbestos production use is in the past, mesothelioma commonly sits dormant in the body for 20-50 years after initial exposure.
Mesothelioma incidence in women is on the rise because many women experienced second hand exposure. Because they were often children at the time of their exposure, these are young women. Heather’s exposure came from a cozy habit—she loved to wear her beloved father’s jacket when she went outside to play. Her father was a construction worker. And the white dust covering his jacket was asbestos.
Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral whose fine particles are inhaled and rest in the lungs. Although it was banned by the EPA in 1989, that ban was overturned in 1991, and asbestos continues to be used, especially internationally. Between 2,500 and 3,000 new cases of mesothelioma are diagnosed each year, and on average, patients are given 10 months to live. Heather, as one of only a few survivors, has made it her cause to spread the word, hope, and a plea for more research so her story is less of a rare one.
If you suspect you’ve had second hand asbestos exposure in your childhood, and start having any respiratory symptoms, please consult with your doctor.
http://www.mesothelioma.com/heather (a sweet short video about Heather's story, and an information-packed site)