I first learned about mesothelioma cancer two years ago when Heather Von St. James, a mesothelioma cancer survivor, emailed with a request to share her story as a guest blogger.
If you aren’t familiar with mesothelioma cancer, it’s also known as asbestos cancer. Every year doctors diagnose an estimated 3,000 cases of mesothelioma in the United States because mesothelioma can take from 20 to 50 years after asbestos exposure before symptoms appear.
That’s what happened to Virgil Anderson, my guest blogger for today. This is his mesothelioma story.
You can find a lot of statistics and facts online about the dangers of asbestos and the poor outcomes of being diagnosed with mesothelioma. What I hope to offer is a more personal story that may serve as a warning to others.
Asbestos is not used as often as it once was, but it is still out there in older buildings, in cars, in industrial settings, and other locations. I only hope my story will help protect others from the same fate.
My story begins in my hometown of Williamson, West Virginia. I was born and raised in this small town and my prospects for college or a career were limited. I took the initiative and started working and earning as early as I could.
Starting in high school, I worked in demolition. I helped to tear down old buildings, sometimes with machinery and other times with my bare hands. I did this back-breaking work in a swirl of dust and debris.
What I didn’t realize at the time was that dust contained toxic asbestos fibers and without protection, I was inhaling them.
From demolition I moved on to more skilled and specialized work that was not nearly as physically demanding. I started working with cars. One of my early jobs was removing the hood liners from older cars.
Again, what I didn’t know was that these hood liners had asbestos in them to insulate against heat and protect against fire.
Later, I moved on to working as a mechanic, which included dismantling and replacing brakes and clutches, and you probably guessed it by now: these too contained asbestos.
As happens with many other people who work around asbestos without knowing of the risks, I received my diagnosis of mesothelioma many years later. This terrible type of cancer sits latent in the body, showing no signs and causing no symptoms for decades.
By the time, I knew something was wrong it was too late. I was diagnosed with advanced pleural mesothelioma.
I am over 50 years old and living with symptoms like shortness of breath, a terrible cough, and pain in my chest when I breathe. I can’t move much anymore and although I am not that old, I am severely limited in what I can do. Just getting out of bed is now difficult for me.
My treatment options are limited because of the advance stage of the disease. I am not a good candidate for surgery, but I have been able to receive chemotherapy. It helps, but it is not enough to cure me or to extend my life by much. I need help just doing normal, everyday activities, but I am still glad to be alive.
I am most glad to be alive so that I can share my story with others. If describing what I have been through helps just one person to be screened early for mesothelioma or take steps at work to be protected from asbestos, I feel that I have done some good.
As Virgil says, we share his story to encourage others to be tested and aware of the dangers of mesothelioma.