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Confronting mesothelioma

Cam&HeatherBy Heather Von St James   

Roseville, Minnesota

Growing up, I was the quintessential daddy’s girl. Meeting him at the door when he got home from work to greet him with a hug, sitting close to him in the dusty front seat of his car… (these were the days before seat belt laws.) I loved wearing his coat to go outside to tend to my rabbits, never mind it was caked with white dust he brought home from his hours on the job sanding and cleaning drywall. We had no idea that that white dust contained asbestos, the deadly substance that caused my mesothelioma some 30 years later.

November 21st, 2005, just three and a half months after the birth of my first and only child, I was diagnosed with malignant pleural mesothelioma. I was 36 years old.

I was given three choices to beat this cancer, the best was a risky surgery called an Extrapleural pneumenectomy, or EPP, which consists of the removal of the or lining of the lung, the lung itself, the lining of my heart, and the left half of my diaphragm.

I had the surgery on February 2006, spent 18 days in the hospital, and the rest of the year doing chemo, then radiation.  I got horribly sick during the radiation, and lost close to 100 pounds by the time everything was over.  I was a shadow of my former self, but I was alive.  I did all this, while raising a baby, who turned one after I finished chemotherapy. To say this journey to recovery was hard is an understatement, but I’m here 6 years later, so it was worth it.

As I started feeling better, I got to know more people in the world of mesothelioma. I attended the Mesothelioma Applied Research Foundation’s annual symposium. It was there I met Linda Reinstein, co-founder of the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization, a valued Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families partner. It was she, who started my education on asbestos, and through her became more involved.

I was shocked to learn at her annual conference that asbestos has NOT been banned in the United States, but is still imported and uses in products every day.  Canada is one of the largest exporters of this deadly substance, endangering countless people in developing countries. Some examples of products still containing asbestos include: wall spackle/filler and duct tape!

Chances are, if your home was built before, 1978 somewhere, asbestos was used in the floor tiles, duct tape, and insulation. It was used everywhere. The need for regulation and all out ban is dire. Thousands of people every year are dying from asbestos related diseases, and that number is only getting higher.

In addition to an asbestos ban, we also need to identify and prevent the next asbestos. Currently our federal laws are so weak, we don’t have a system to prevent this from happening again. That is why I’m supporting the Safe Chemicals Act.

So please, educate yourself, your friends, neighbors, and elected officials; it is only through awareness can we start to ban these toxic products.

To read more about mesothelioma and Heather’s story, check out her blog at the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance Blog. Or check out the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization’s website.