The first week of April was Asbestos Awareness Week, and obviously we’re well past that of course. But I was very much taken with Heather Von St. James’ story. She’s one of few people diagnosed with mesothelioma to have survived. Most die within 2 years.
Heather was kind enough to answer some questions for me, so without further ado, here is her story.
Earnest Parenting: What is mesothelioma?
Heather Von St. James: Mesothelioma is cancer of the lining of organs, which is called the mesothelium. There are three main types, pleural, which is the lining of the lung, peritoneal, which is the abdomen lining, and pericardial, which is around the heart. It is almost always caused by asbestos exposure.
EP: When were you diagnosed and what was the prognosis?
Heather: I was given my diagnosis on November 21st t 1:30 in the afternoon. My initial prognosis was quite grim. 15 months if I didn’t do anything. To make matters worse, I had a 3 1/2 month old baby at home. She was our first, and only child.
EP: Holy smokes, only 15 months? What went through your mind?
Heather: A lot of fear, disbelief, and then a quiet determination… I wasn’t going to give up easily.
EP: I’m so glad you’re still with us all these years later. Is that a miracle that’s possible for others diagnosed with mesothelioma?
Heather: I know many long term survivors. Like with any cancer, early diagnosis is key and finding a specialist who knows how to treat the disease is so important. Many people are living lover and longer after diagnosis because of those reasons.
EP: Does anyone know how you were exposed to asbestos?
Heather: My dad worked with it when I was a child. He would sand drywall mud, and tear apart boilers and do a lot of demolition work. Asbestos was in those products, and his coat and clothes were coated with a pale gray dust. It was this dust that I was exposed to that made me sick. I would wear my dads jacket when I had to do chores outside where I might get dirty, like taking care of my rabbits. Wearing his coat made me feel special like wearing a hug.
EP: Really. A work jacket? It’s difficult to conceive how something that looks so benign could cause so much havoc. Do parents nowadays have to worry about asbestos exposure for their children?
Heather: Yes! But not in those same ways. If you live in a home built before 1980, chances are somewhere there is products containing asbestos. Insulation, floor tiles, ceiling tiles. So before embarking on any home renovations, please have your home checked for asbestos and have it removed by qualified contractor. DO NOT attempt this on your own.
EP: I know you have a website dedicated to raising awareness about asbestos. What is the site and what is the most important thing people need to know about asbestos?
Heather: www.mesothelioma.com is where you will find tons of information about the disease and about your rights if you are exposed and find yourself with a mesothelioma diagnosis. There is NO safe level of exposure to asbestos and take it very seriously if you find out you have some in your home.
EP: Any final thoughts that you would like to share?
Heather: Until there is more Awareness, nothing will change. Asbestos exposure kills people, yet it is still not banned in this country. It is used in commercial an residential products still. Contact your government official and tell them to designate more money for mesothelioma research and to ban asbestos all together. As a worldwide industrial leader, it is irresponsible as a country not to ban it.
Earnest Parenting: help for parents concerned about mesothelioma.