Heather's Story: Spreading Awareness of The Harmful Effects of Asbestos and Mesothelioma

Today I have the privilege to share with you the story of a woman named Heather Von St. James.

(Isn't that a cool last name? Von St. James. Some people have some reeeeeeeeeeeeal doozies out there for last names and Heather gets "Von St. James".)

Heather's husband, Cameron, contacted me to ask if I would be willing to spread awareness about his wife's story and about mesothelioma, a cancer caused by exposure to asbestos, as today is Mesothelioma Awareness Day. I remember when I worked at The University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston different departments would lament the fact that there wasn't as much exposure and awareness for their particular cancer type as there is for others.  Everyone recognizes the pink ribbon for breast cancer. The awareness for other cancers, such as mesothelioma, is not nearly as great. Obviously, breast cancer is much more prevalent than mesothelioma and some other cancer types, but to the person these cancers effect, it is as prevalent as ever.

Cameron and Heather Von St. James with their sweet daughter.

What is mesothelioma?

Mesothelioma is a cancer that effects the membrane lining of the lungs and abdomen. "Pleural mesothelioma (affecting the lung’s protective lining in the chest cavity) represents about three quarters of all mesothelioma incidence. Peritoneal mesothelioma, which affects the abdominal cavity, and pericardial mesothelioma, which affects the cardiac cavity, comprise the remainder."

Mesothelioma affects about 3,000 people a year. Once that diagnosis is received, people are generally told they have an average of 10 months to live. Ten months equals 7,200 hours. Heather and those with her are hoping that they can at least get 7,200 voices to spread the word about mesothelioma and increase the awareness of this disease.

Heather had surgery for mesothelioma in February 2005. She has been a survivor for nine years. Looks like she surpassed the 10-month mark by a long shot thanks to wonderful physicians trained in the diagnosis and treatment of mesothelioma.

On this day of mesothelioma awareness, I think that they really want to get the message out about asbestos. I have heard this word for so long and always wondered just what it was exactly. Asbestos is a silicate mineral that appears as a long, thin, fibrous crystal. This mineral is still mined in different parts of the world. Per Wikipedia, "around 2 million tons of Asbestos are still mined per year as of 2009, mainly in Russia (50%), China, Brazil, Kazakhstan and Canada (9% to 14% each)." Asbestos is resistant to fire and heat, so it was used for electrical and building insulation mostly. Even after its awful link to health issues, such as mesothelioma, it is still used for these purposes in different parts of the world. "Asbestos" is a Greek word that means "inextinguishable" or "unquenchable".

And do you know what is so crazy?

From Heather's awareness page, I learned that asbestos is still not banned in the United States. Roughly 30 million pounds are still used each year. The fibers are invisible to the naked eye. Even though it has been more than 30 years after its peak period of use, it is still the number one cause of occupational cancer in the United States. Asbestos is still found in many homes, schools and commercial or industrial buildings. It was once used in more than 3,000 consumer products (click here to see a list- warning: it may blow your mind), including toasters and hair dryers (some which may still be in use!). Navy veterans are at the greatest risk to develop mesothelioma as asbestos was widely used in Naval ships and shipyards.

No amount of asbestos exposure is safe.

The first asbestos-linked case of mesothelioma was in 1964. Mesothelioma is expected to reach its peak in 2020. The EPA estimates that there is asbestos in most of the nation's older schools. Mesothelioma usually sits dormant in the body for 20-50 years before a person even knows they have it. It is most common in people 50-70 years of age, but younger people can get it, such as Heather. Remember, the primary cause is of mesothelioma is asbestos exposure.

This is a preventable disease.

I know it would mean so much to Heather if you would help spread mesothelioma awareness by sharing what you learn here, as well as liking her Facebook page by clicking HERE and following her on Twitter, too. You can follow her by going HERE.

With increased awareness of the dangers of asbestos, we can hopefully greatly decrease exposure to it and the subsequent harmful effects! We want everyone around for a long time to enjoy their family, children and life itself. It seems that Heather is now doing just that given this quote from her Twitter page: "Life is a banquet, and most poor suckers are starving to death.. ~Mame Dennis"