My Decade of Mesothelioma Awareness Efforts

In 2005, at the age of 36, I was diagnosed with mesothelioma, an extremely rare form of cancer caused by asbestos. I developed the disease because as a little girl I used to wear my dad’s coat – the same coat that he would wear to do construction with drywall and demolition work. Asbestos particles would travel back with him on his coat, and from there they got into my lungs.

Most people who develop the disease die within 18 months. The really lucky ones make it five years. My story is almost unheard of, as earlier this year marked 10 years of being free of this deadly disease.

The last 10 years have not been easy, but they have been a blessing despite hard times. One thing that has helped me get through it all is the work that I have done to spread awareness and educate the public about mesothelioma. I have also spent these last 10 years warning people about the dangers of asbestos, and trying to get the toxic substance banned here in the United States.

It is really amazing how many opportunities have come my way because of mesothelioma, especially because, for most people, the disease means closing rather than opening doors. I’ve met so many wonderful people and been a part of so many incredible events. It seems hard to believe in light of my original diagnosis.

In 2009, after I had attended a symposium run by the Mesothelioma Applied Research Foundation – a nonprofit organization dedicated to finding a cure for mesothelioma cancer – I became aware of the annual observance of Mesothelioma Awareness Day, started by the Meso Foundation. The idea behind this event is to have a single day when mesothelioma patients, caregivers, advocates, doctors, researchers, and others can take out all the stops and let everyone know about the disease. That day is September 26th.

But Mesothelioma Awareness Day is more than just any old awareness day. The Meso Foundation wanted to do something different. Every September 26th, supporters of the foundation-- Mesothelioma survivors, caregivers, individuals who have lost a loved one to the disease, union and industry workers exposed to asbestos--meet in New York City with the goals of coming together, learning together, and spreading awareness. On my first Mesothelioma Awareness Day, more than 50 of us met early in the morning outside of the Today show in Rockefeller Center. We wore the Meso Foundation’s T-shirts, all with large, bold letters, and held signs telling the world why we were there. The Meso Foundation combined this awareness event with a one-day seminar on malignant mesothelioma. Since, my mom and I made have made this an annual tradition. Every year, we attend the events put on by the Meso Foundation, and also take advantage of all New York City has to offer. I love having my mom be a part of something so important to me. Every year is a reminder of how far I have come since my diagnosis.

Over the past few years, I have decided to take in some other events to help bring awareness and raise money for mesothelioma research. For example, I have started participating in the Miles for Meso event, a fun 5k run or walk that has grown into multiple races held in several states. I am proud to be a participant again this year, and to be bringing my supportive husband Cam and my beautiful daughter Lily with me!

This year, for the first time, I participated in the 6th annual Kayaking 4 Meso event. Although I wasn’t able to kayak myself, I, along with the other survivors, rode down the river in a pontoon! This event, started by my close friend Mark Wells whose daughter is a 15 year survivor of the disease and only 16 when she was diagnosed, (the average age of diagnosis is 60), was held on September 10th, before Mesothelioma Awareness Day, and raised money for the Mesothelioma Applied Research Foundation. There was over 225 people kayaking down 8 miles of the Hudson River from Stillwater, NY, to Halfmoon, NY and there will be even more in attendance. Upon completion of the race, Mark was presented with the “Above and Beyond” award by Melinda Kotzian, the CEO Of the Mesothelioma Applied Research Foundation. A much deserved honor for Mark who has raised well over $50,000 for the foundation. It was so great to finally be there to support him and be there when he received the award.

All year long, I attend conferences and events and connect with patients, survivors, advocates, and others as much as possible. Back in the early years of my cancer survivorship, I even started my own observance on February 2nd that I call Lungleavin’ Day, as it marks the anniversary of the day that I had one of my lungs removed – an operation that saved my life. It started out as a small get-together with a handful of family and friends, but has since grown into an event that approximately one hundred people attend. We all write our fears on plates and then smash them in the fire to show that those fears cannot conquer us!

I know how lucky I am to have survived so long. I still sometimes struggle with strenuous activities, but this hasn’t kept me from getting out there and doing all I can. Ten years ago, when I was having a lung taken out and getting chemotherapy and radiation, I never would have guessed that I would have so many opportunities to spread awareness about my disease in order to help others.

I’m not writing all of this to pat my own back. I’m writing it in the hope that it will inspire others to get out there and spread some awareness of their own, about mesothelioma and the dangers of asbestos, or about some other rare disease or condition that has affected your own family. The important thing is just to get out there and make sure others know about it!

You can learn more about Mesothelioma Awareness Day here.

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