Guest Post- Finding out you have Cancer

Guest Post written by Heather Von St. James

Finding out that you have cancer is a devastating experience.  When you first hear the words that you have this deadly condition, fear grips you to the core.  In my own case, the news came at a time when I should have been enjoying all that life has to give. My baby arrived just 3 ½ months earlier, and now I had to face a fight against a very serious form of cancer known as malignant pleural mesothelioma.  Asbestos exposure is the primary cause of mesothelioma.

Many people wondered how when they learned asbestos was the major cause of my cancer. Most of them thought asbestos was a banned substance and they asked where my exposure occurred.  Well, the reality is that asbestos is not really a banned substance, and I suffered from secondary exposure.  What happened is that my father worked in construction and specifically on drywall.  While taping, sanding and mudding drywall, dust would collect on my father’s clothing and he accidentally brought it into his car and into the home.  The white dust contained large quantities of invisible asbestos fibers.

Many years later when I was 36-years-old and first heard my diagnosis, the Mayo clinic knew of only one other instance of someone so young afflicted with  mesothelioma.  Most of the time the patients were older and male, and particularly men working in the construction and repair trades like electricians, mechanics and plumbers.  Men working on ships in the Navy are also at high risk.  However, in more recent times, wives have been coming down with this form of cancer in large numbers.

Theses wives are the ones who are washing their husbands clothing, caked with asbestos dust. They commonly do their husbands’ laundry.  When they shake out dusty clothes prior to washing, the asbestos becomes airborne.  We are just starting to see this new generation of wife’s and young women being diagnosed with mesothelioma.  Unfortunately, I was the start of this new deadly demographic, and increasing numbers of young women are now suffering from mesothelioma.

Children also suffer from exposure to asbestos especially if they went to schools with old deteriorating asbestos tiles.  Additionally, millions of American homes had asbestos in the vermiculite used to insulate their attics. Also, If your father worked in the trades, you could suffer from exposure to the asbestos dust that he inadvertently brought home on his work clothing each workday.

Since my diagnosis, I have becoming very involved in the mesothelioma community and working to spread awareness of this disease..  My growing involvement made me aware that the patients are becoming younger.  These days, more and more men and women with mesothelioma often range in age from their late twenties to their early thirties.   Many of these people are in the prime of their lives with new marriages, children and budding careers.  However, the news of their condition completely changes the focus of their lives.  They must now give nearly everything they have to fight off the deadly mesothelioma cancer.  Fortunately, though, the medical community is making great strides in tackling this disease.  Increasingly, people of all ages are surviving and getting on with their lives.

While hearing the news that you have mesothelioma is heartbreaking, you must not give up hope!  Many people simply breakdown when they learn about the deadly history of this cancer.  However, by coming together as a community, we can all confront the problem together.  We can share our struggles along with our victories together and draw strength from each other!

The reason that I continue to be so involved in the mesothelioma community is that we need to raise awareness about this condition.  Without awareness, we will continue to face situations in which people lose hope when they learn they have this cancer.  By sharing my story, I hope that people will not let fear overcome them when they hear that they have mesothelioma.  If they are able to face their condition, and have hope while fighting, then I know that I have done my part.

To learn more about Heather, check out & “like” her new Facebook page dedicated to mesothelioma awareness & support! You can follow her journey on Facebook!

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