That was eight years ago.
Immediately after diagnosis, Heather sought out treatment from some of the best doctors and surgeons in the field and, following a life-saving surgery which included the removal of her left lung, she changed that death sentence into a life of hope.
I was inspired by Heather's strength and optimism and immediately agreed to lend my voice, and this platform, in support of the 10th Annual Mesothelioma Awareness Day, which is on Friday, September 26.
Heather sent me a few links to educate myself on mesothelioma and I quickly realized how little I knew about this aggressive disease. I'd heard of it, of course, but mostly in the context of ambulance-chasing law firm commercials promising to take care of you and your loved ones in the aftermath of a meso diagnosis.
I didn't know that 2,500-3,000 new cases of mesothelioma are diagnosed each year and that, on average, people are given just ten months to live.
I had no idea that meso can sit dormant in your body for 20-50 years and that the number of diagnoses worldwide is on the rise. The number of mesothelioma cases is expected to peak in the year 2020.
I had no idea that mesothelioma is a preventable cancer, as it's only known cause is exposure to asbestos.
Did you know that?
Did you know that asbestos exposure was initially linked to mesothelioma in 1964, yet it was still commonly used in building materials and household appliances (like toasters and hair dryers) until 1989? For twenty-five years it was known that asbestos, a naturally occurring mineral, was carcinogenic. For twenty-five years it was still used in the construction of schools, homes, and other commercial and industrial buildings.
Finally, on July 12, 1989, the EPA banned most asbestos-containing products.
Did you know that in 1991, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned this ban, allowing all but a few products back on the market?
Federal law now states that new products must contain less than 1% asbestos, but the EPA estimates that asbestos is still in most of the nation's 107,000 primary and secondary schools, in addition to nearly three-quarters of a million public and commercial buildings. Thirty million pounds of it, in fact.
Educate yourself: check out mesothelioma.com. There, you'll find a list of asbestos-containing job sites around the country...maybe even in your town. You'll also find a list of asbestos-containing products that are still being used today. The list is extensive and overwhelming, but there's good news: there are many alternatives to these products (mostly building materials) that are available to use now. They are safe and cost-effective and most have earned "green" ratings for being environmentally conscious, too. The choice to not use products containing asbestos seems pretty clear, doesn't it?
This year, 10,000 Americans will die from asbestos-related diseases, including mesothelioma.
This week, I'll be sharing mesothelioma and asbestos facts on Twitter in support of Mesothelioma Awareness Day. Specifically, I'll be showing my support for this brave, beautiful mama and her sweet daughter.