Thursday, August 23, 2012

Heather's Story: A Cancer Fighter's Quest to Ease the Fear of the Illness

Good morning friends, I'm packing bags for the trip to Portland in preparation for my 2nd Foodie Conference of the year (International Food Bloggers Conference) and I'm delighted to introduce you to Heather. She graciously offered to share her story. Thanks Heather!

You Have Cancer

There is no good time to receive a cancer diagnosis, but mine was especially heartbreaking. I received the devastating news just three and a half months after giving birth to my beautiful baby, and I was enjoying the many wonders of life as a new mom. It was surprising to learn that I was suffering from malignant pleural mesothelioma, which is generally caused by exposure to asbestos.

The first question everyone asks is how I was exposed to a banned substance, but the surprising truth is that asbestos has not been banned. The second question people ask is where my exposure came from. The answer lies in the unfortunate occurrence of secondary exposure. My father had a job in construction, and his daily work consisted of drywall taping, mudding and sanding. When he came home from work, his clothing and car were a haven for dust that was filled with millions of microscopic asbestos fibers.

I was diagnosed with mesothelioma at the age of 36. The Mayo clinic had only heard of one other mesothelioma patient this young. In the beginning, most patients were older men who worked in trade vocations. They were generally plumbers, electricians and mechanics. Some worked in heating, and some had worked in the military where they were exposed on ships. There were also women diagnosed who had worked at schools in buildings that were filled with asbestos.

Unfortunately, my case was just the start of an alarming trend in secondary exposure. A large number of wives began getting sick, possibly from doing their husbands laundry. They handled clothing that was caked with asbestos, and would usually shake the excess dust out of the clothes before putting them in the washing machine. Unsuspecting children were exposed when they hugged their dads who had just come home from a day at work installing insulation. Dads and their children were unaware of the dangers in this seemingly harmless dust.

Mesothelioma is now plaguing a new generation of victims. There are an ever-increasing number of young people receiving this dreaded diagnosis. Children who went to school with asbestos dust swirling around them are suffering from this unforgiving cancer. Children who played in the millions of attics across America that were contaminated with asbestos from vermiculite insulation are also suffering from this unrelenting disease.

This dreaded cancer is afflicting men and women from their late 20’s to early 30’s. These young people should have their whole lives ahead of them. They are getting married, having children and starting new jobs when the devastating diagnosis brings their world down around them. The focus shifts from their hopes for the future to beating mesothelioma and surviving to see the future. They want to see their children grow up, and they want to grow old with their loved ones.

There is good news. Successful research has created amazing advances allowing for successful treatment of this disease. The outlook has turned from bleak to hopeful. People of all ages are surviving, which gives hope to everyone involved.

My cancer diagnosis was devastating, but with new breakthroughs, many people suffering from mesothelioma are hopeful that they will be among the growing number of mesothelioma survivors.

Some people may wonder why I take the time to share my experiences. My goal is to bring awareness about mesothelioma. Without public awareness, there is a feeling of despair among newly diagnosed individuals. I am telling my story to help ease the fear of this illness and bring hope for recovery. I know that my efforts are not in vain, and that makes my mission, although difficult at times, worthwhile.


  1. Thanks for posting this, Frieda -- I admire Heather's courage and willingness to discuss this disease. I've had a family member impacted by mesothelioma, and I know attitude is everything. Heather's outlook will allow her to face matters at hand with grace. Inspiring!

  2. Michael, So glad you dropped by. I love your perspective and share your view whole heartidly.

  3. Heather, thank you so much for sharing your story. I, too, am hopeful for a cure and improved treatments for mesothelioma as well as many other cancers. I am an old oncology nurse and have seen more advancement in cancer treatment in the last 5 years than any other time in history. This is an exciting time in cancer treatment and research and there most certainly is cause for hope. I will keep you in my prayers and remain hopeful for a cure for you. God Bless, Jana

    1. Jana, thank you for sharing your nursing experiences with us and for the prayers of hope.


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