I lost my brother-in-law to lung cancer 2 years ago this Christmas. It was a huge loss for our family, as Phil was our families rock. I first met Phil when I was about 11 or 12.He was my mentor, my former boss, and in my single days, he invited me on many a family vacation. He was diagnosed and had part of a lung removed. He fought his cancer and enjoyed life best he could. He had always been a big kid. Here is a photo of me, Phil and my sister from a family Christmas in 2011. He passed away about a year after this photo was taken.
After being in remission, in 2012, he received some sad news his cancer was back and had spread to his ribs. Watching a family member fight cancer is awful. The treatments are not easy and the patient is sick from the cancer and sick from the treatments. The caretaker has a hard job too. While I was so hopeful when we heard Phil had lung cancer, I learned along the way, the prognosis for lung cancer by the time its discovered is not favorable.
I am posting this because this year on Phil’s birthday I got an email from a cancer survivor named Heather asking me to help spread some awareness as November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month. I cried when I read the email, thinking of Phil and all he endured and what a coincidence it was for me to get this request on his birthday of all days.
Heather was diagnosed in November eight years ago with pleural mesothelioma. She had just given birth to her daughter and was told she might not live to see her first birthday. I can only imagine the anguish Heather and her family felt with this crushing diagnosis at what should be one of the happiest times of a woman’s life. Although mesothelioma is not considered lung cancer, it is a rare cancer that affects the lining of the lungs and is only caused by exposure to asbestos. After the removal of Heather’s left lung and a series of treatments, she is now a part of the small group of mesothelioma survivors. She wants to spread awareness of her rare cancer caused by something so many of us are exposed to daily.
Heather’s cancer, Mesothelioma Cancer is a very aggressive cancer caused by exposure to asbestos: being in a building, around construction removing, clothes from a worker you meet or other environmental factors. Heather’s dad was in construction and as a child she used to wear his jacket he wore on work sites.
Asbestos? They don’t use that anymore do they? Here are some unsettling facts:
Mesothelioma is difficult to diagnose because the early signs and symptoms of the disease can be subtle or mistaken. Symptoms are all too frequently ignored or dismissed by people who are inclined to attribute them to common every day ailments. Sometimes patients live with symptoms for up to 6 months before being diagnosed but usually the symptoms are present for two to three months prior to a mesothelioma diagnosis.
About 60% of patients diagnosed with pleural mesothelioma experience lower back pain or side chest pain, and there are frequent reports of shortness of breath. Lower numbers of people may experience difficulty swallowing, or have a persistent cough, fever, weight loss or fatigue. Additional symptoms that some patients experience are muscle weakness, loss of sensory capability, coughing up blood, facial and arm swelling, and hoarseness.
I learned from Phil’s illness frequently by the time the disease is diagnosed, its too late as the cancer has spread or cannot be contained and treated. Heather’s mesothelioma occurs in only about 2500-3000 people per year. While it affects mainly men over 60, women and children mesothelioma can be diagnosed too and its a difficult malignancy to diagnose because the symptoms of the disease closely resemble other respiratory conditions. For this reason, misdiagnosis is not uncommon in mesothelioma patients. Symptoms of mesothelioma include chest pain, chronic cough, effusions of the chest and abdomen, and the presence of blood in lung fluid.
What can you do to keep your lungs healthy?
- To keep your lungs as healthy as you can, I urge first of all ANYONE who is smoking, PLEASE STOP. Yes I know its hard, I am an ex-smoker now for 15 years. We know it contributes to causing lung cancers and second hand smoke is bad for everyone else. While it doesn’t cause mesothelioma, smokers exposed to asbestos have a much higher chance of developing it than non smokers.
- See a doctor for your annual physical exam. If you have been feeling anything less than 100% or something seems off, talk to your doctor at your physical.
- Pay attention to when you are not feeling well – call your doctor to get checked if you are experiencing shortness of breath, persistent cough, unexplained weight loss or fatigue.
- Exercise, its good for your cardiovascular system.
- If you have any exposure to asbestos talk to your physician about the vaccine to arm your bodies immune system with cancer fighting antibodies and antigens.
Look, I am not a doctor, but Phil’s diagnosis was a wake up call to me. We smoked side by side for years and worked in an office that was full of smokers – it was like a cloud in their. Phil had quit smoking before his diagnosis which I am convinced gave us more time with him. One of the reasons I run is for my health you know.
When I got Heather’s email and researched her cancer at first I thought, asbestos, I live in homes checked for that. But this photo got me thinking maybe a little awareness is a good thing because rare illnesses like these do not fall at the top of the list for research.
We walk around and never know what microscopic particles we are inhaling. The building we are in may be asbestos free, but they were using that stuff so much back in the day, as each old building gets torn down, those particles could end up in our lungs.
Thanks Heather for reaching out to me. Appreciate your wish to educate and help others and inspired by your fight with mesothelioma.
Read Heather’s story here.
Disclosure: No compensation received from this post. Just wanted to sharing the inspiring story of a cancer survivor along with spreading awareness of Lung Cancer Awareness Month. To learn more about Mesothelioma, go here. Thanks for reading and please take care of yourself.
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