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Author: Nancy Meredith

Mesothelioma Deaths Continue to Rise

The Silent Killer

There is no such thing as safe exposure to asbestos. Airborne exposure to these microscopic, fibrous minerals leads to asbestos-related cancers, including mesothelioma, lung cancer, and asbestosis, and results in death for an estimated 107,000 innocent individuals each year. The horrid truth is that all deaths and illnesses related to asbestos are entirely preventable, yet each day 30 Americans will die of an asbestos-related illness. The manufacturing, import and export, and use of asbestos in every day products continues, however, despite publication of scientific evidence that proves the life-terminating effects of the material.

The first uses of asbestos, which literally means “unquenchable” or “inextinguishable,” dates back to over 2,000 years ago on the ancient Greek island of Ewoia, believed to be home of the first asbestos mine. The “near-magical properties” of asbestos, from its tensile strength to its ability to resist fire, heat, and acid, resulted in popular use and the development of a thriving asbestos industry. Countries across the globe contributed to this industry for decades prior to the discovery of its detrimental health effects. Industrialized countries, including the United States, have used this inexpensive, naturally occurring, fibrous mineral for a wide array of products, including pipe and ceiling insulation, ship-building materials, brake shoes and pads, bricks, roofing, and flooring, and more.

With the rise of the Industrial Revolution during the late 1800s, asbestos use in the U.S. began to flourish and gained significant popularity in a number of industries. Even with its historically documented biological effects, it began to be used as insulation for steam pipes, turbines, boilers, kilns, ovens, and other high-temperature products. As the centuries waned, asbestos use continued and found its way to the U.S. Navy. The silent killer was utilized to insulate virtually ever chamber in the navy vessels and thousands of the veterans of World War I, World War II, and the Vietnam War were exposed to asbestos while aboard military aircraft and navy ships. Asbestos was also employed in the production of over 300 products necessary in the construction and preservation of navy vessels, such as valves, adhesives, cables and gaskets.

With the progression of time, more and more uses for asbestos were discovered, even after several studies in the U.S. in the early-1900s noted that asbestos workers were dying unnaturally young and major medical journals began to publish articles that directly linked asbestos to cancer. Asbestos use continued to surge in the automobile industry, in brake and clutch lining, and in the construction industry, in a variety of products including cement, roof of shingles, floor and ceiling tiles, siding, stucco, plaster, and more. Unfortunately, records indicate that industries continued to ignore the noted dangers of asbestos and continued to unjustly expose its employees to the deadly material for the sake of profits. It wasn’t until 1971 that government legislation, the United States Occupational Safety and Health Administration, intervened and began to regulate asbestos exposure.

Presently, however, the U.S. still has not banned asbestos and continues to stubbornly import chrysotile asbestos to “meet manufacturing needs,” despite the strong scientific evidence of the severe health risks associated with asbestos exposure. Ships docked in U.S. ports still unload asbestos in the states of Louisiana, Texas, California and New Jersey – just to name a few. For the past two years, the chloralkali industry has increased usages, even though viable and affordable asbestos substitutes exist and have been utilized in other countries. More than 31 million tons of asbestos was imported from 1900 to present, which has and continues to compromise workers’ health and safety. An estimated 35 million U.S. homes, schools, and buildings contain asbestos-contaminated materials. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration states that in the U.S., “An estimated 1.3 million employees in the construction and general industry face significant asbestos exposure on the job.” In May 2010, the United States President’s Cancer Panel reported, “Construction workers were found to be 11 times more likely to develop mesothelioma, due to asbestos exposures at the site.” Additionally, it was reported that 2,600 tons of asbestos was collected after the Joplin, Missouri tornado and tons of toxic debris littered the coastline after Hurricane Sandy. Occupational exposures can occur during maintenance, construction, abatement, and hazardous debris removal. Analyzing the asbestos import rates and morbidity/mortality rates, the ongoing asbestos problem in the U.S. is obvious. The correlations of the findings are not limited to the United States because they also have global ramifications. This data from the U.S. analysis when correlated to global occupational exposure reveals a global public health trend that affects all of the Americas.

When my father was diagnosed with stage-four mesothelioma in 2002, the most progressive stage of the cancer, the doctors said the particles had been lingering in his system without any symptoms for 25 years and estimated he had one month to live. Ironically, while working and trying to make a living for himself, he was unknowingly exposed to a toxic material that would financially cost him more for treatment than what he was making at work, and eventually cost him his life. He went against the doctor’s estimates and fought with the cancer for seven years. In those seven years, he overcame surgeries, numerous chemotherapy sessions, and lived his life in a constant struggle. Asbestos-related cancer victims go on to die painful, brutal deaths. In the last sixth months of his life, similar to what many patients will endure, he could not eat, hardly slept, had a tube shoved up his nose, and suffered excessively as a result of exposure to this material. Exposure to asbestos did not only result in a physical and emotional struggle for my father, but for my whole family. Even if other members of my family, anyone my father influenced, or myself were not directly exposed to it, we all had to face the consequences of asbestos. Asbestos not only affects millions of its victims, but also billions of families, friends, and communities around the world.

To protect the health of all people in the world – industrial workers, construction workers, spouses and children, now and in generations to come – it is essential to spread asbestos and mesothelioma awareness. More than two million tons of this material is produced each year, and according to the International Social Security Administration, figures for asbestos manufacture and use have begun to climb again. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, in 2012 alone, 1,060 tons of asbestos were imported into the U.S. to meet so-called “manufacturing needs.” Asbestos lingers not only in the workplace, but also in the environment. In countries like the U.S. where asbestos continues to be used today, asbestos-contaminated dust accumulates in thousands of communities. Safer substitutes to replace this killer have already been implemented successfully in 52 countries. The only realistic and sustainable answer to this pandemic is complete removal of asbestos worldwide. The primary influence on governments to ban asbestos comes from the voice of the public. Very rarely do people see a story on asbestos in the media, but when the public is educated and acts on the information, the greatest success is seen. The fate of hundreds relies on citizens to promote awareness and come together to demand all countries to ban the manufacture, trade and use of all types of asbestos and asbestos-containing products as soon as possible. Ultimately, what’s worth more – an inexpensive material or our lives?


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World Cancer Day Is A Reminder to Support the Mesothelioma Community

February 4 was World Cancer Day, a day to come together to pray for those afflicted with this disease, the families impacted, the warriors still fighting, and a cure. This is time for the entire cancer community to be recognized and bring light to the fact that there is much work to be done to find a cure for all cancers, in order to bring these horrific nightmares to a conclusion.

Clinical trials, experimental treatments, and therapies are all in the news. The awareness this creates is paramount; it could help save someone’s life that hears about them, as well as change millions of lives by their successes.

I am honored to be an active advocate in this community, more specifically the mesothelioma community. I am an unhappy member, but a proud one, working to raise funds and to help others in memory of my Dad. Let’s face it, this is a club that no one wants to be in. There’s no secret handshake, no membership fee, and no perks. This club is full of heartbroken associates; comrades who have endured highs and lows, suffering and joy, throughout their cancer story. The survivors are beautiful examples, the warriors valiant knights, and the lost mourned kinsmen.

No matter what your role is in this narrative, whether you are a patient or a loved one, a medical professional or an acquaintance, we all have a part to play. We need the support of everyone during their battle with cancer in order to end this era in our history, and I believe that it can happen. Advocacy is key, informing the general public about what is going on in the cancer field. Funds are necessary to perform research and help those who cannot afford treatment on their own. Prayers are essential. Time is of the essence. Faith is what will get us through.

So take a little time to think about where you fit. The story can be changed for the better by your support, your willingness to give, and your capacity to love. Let’s work together, and change the way we look at cancer… let’s see it in the rear-view mirror.

Improving Immune System's Memory May Lead to New Mesothelioma Treatment

Nurse Explains the Immune System and Mesothelioma

This winter the flu has been prevalent, and has affected a record number of people. The flu vaccine can help prevent people from getting a particular strain of the flu, and if they do get it, it may be less severe. Why do the flu and other common ailments affect people so differently?  How does our body protect us against diseases?  Do products that claim to “boost” our immune system work?

The key system that the body uses to defend against diseases  is the immune system. The immune system is a complicated system that works as a balanced network all over our body to protect us against disease.

There are a lot of statements claiming that by taking a certain supplement, living a certain way, following a specific diet, or even drinking a certain shake, you can “boost” your immune system. Is that even scientifically possible?

At present there are no scientifically proven direct links between lifestyle and enhanced immune function. There is evidence, however, that every part of our body functions better when following a healthy living lifestyle. This includes getting enough sleep, reducing stress, not smoking, eating a healthy diet high in vegetables, exercising regularly, drinking alcohol only in moderation, maintaining a healthy weight, and washing your hands frequently.

The cancer community and the mesothelioma community have been hearing a good deal about research into the immune system. Immunotherapy is a treatment that uses certain specific parts of the immune system to fight disease. Immunotherapy works in a variety of ways by stimulating the immune system to work harder, or by giving the immune system man-made proteins to fight the cancer cells. Immunotherapy can work with existing therapies to fight cancer or it can be the principal treatment depending on the patient‘s cancer. Targeted therapies involving activating and harnessing targeted cells in the immune system have shown promise for some patients with malignant mesothelioma.

People diagnosed with malignant mesothelioma, or any other cancer, and their caregivers,  need to take care of themselves.  A healthy lifestyle is a positive way to help your overall health.  Malignant mesothelioma is a complicated disease, there are no easy answers, or instant cures, but the immune system is proving to be a key component in the search for a cure.  Until the researchers unharness the workings of the immune system, it is in everybody’s best interest that we all adopt a healthy lifestyle!  Take care of yourself!

Grief and Guilt After Losing Loved One - Mesothelioma Help

Mesothelioma Patients Leave Lasting Gifts For Loved Ones Left in the Wake of the Disease

Facing death is probably is one of the most difficult issues that we have to deal with as humans. For some, there is warning and time to plan, for others though, death comes unexpectedly. The courage of people to think of others as they face their own mortality is something that is awe-inspiring.

As nurses we hear many stories and perspectives. Two women recently have done unselfish, thoughtful, amazing things for their husbands to help deal with their deaths when it happens.

Mrs. A is in her late 50’s, has been married for many years, has adult children, and is very social. She also has advanced, recurrent cancer and does not know how much time she has left. She has always been in charge of her and her husband’s social life. She was worried he might become reclusive when she dies. So she set up a social club for him and five other men who are friends and part of their social group. Now, the men meet once a week, socialize, watch a game, have a drink, and support each other. At first her husband was reluctant, but now calls them “his play dates.” The other men in the group also enjoy their “playdates” and rarely do any of them miss a week. Mrs. A now has peace of mind that her husband will have support when she dies; whenever that might be.

Mrs. B is in her mid 60’s, she has been married for a number of years. She and her husband are both professionals with busy careers. She has metastatic cancer and is facing her death. They have welcomed a kitten into their home. Mrs. B. feels that will help make her absence a little less lonely for her husband. A kitten will not replace her, of course, but it can represent life and love and responsibility. Sometimes knowing our loved one will not be alone is comforting to the dying person.

In the face of their own mortality, both women have found comfort in thinking of their husbands.  Both show courage and compassion.

Many people diagnosed with malignant mesothelioma are like these two women. I have seen many people more concerned about the effects of their diagnosis on their families, and how they would cope when they die, than on themselves and what they are going through.

Facing death takes courage. Reach out, talk about your fears, anxiety, or whatever is concerning you. We all know death is uncertain, but providing our loved ones with tangible support may help the dying, and provide some relief in the future for their loved ones.

Nurse Explains Cancer Staging

Loneliness and Mesothelioma Is A Challenging Combination

Recently, the Prime Minister of England announced a new cabinet level position: Minister of Loneliness. When announcing the appointment, Prime Minister Theresa May called loneliness a “sad reality of modern life.”  The campaign is being led by Tracey Crouch, undersecretary of sports and civil society in the culture ministry.  They have started to work on an “England-wide strategy to tackle loneliness.”  England is a country of 60 million people, and more than nine million residents say they often, or always feel lonely.

In the United States, the former Surgeon General Vivek Murthy has been bringing attention to the data that “are telling us that loneliness kills.” A report published in 2013 found that loneliness can impair health by raising levels of stress hormones and inflammation, which can then lead to increased risk for heart disease, arthritis, Type 2 diabetes, dementia and suicide attempts.

“Loneliness is the state of feeling sad or dejected as a result of lack of companionship or being separated from others,” according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine. There are multiple factors that can cause people to feel lonely.  Social interactions are difficult for some and our busy society makes it difficult for some to form relationships and interact with others.

At the mesothelioma center, we are too familiar with loneliness. It is strongly suggested that you have someone with you to support you through your journey. A friend, relative, someone who can support you along the way.  A few years ago at an orientation meeting for new mesothelioma patients, a quiet man sat among patients and families.  He introduced himself and said he was alone through his journey.  His few words left a lasting impression on many of us. Not only was he fighting a rare, aggressive cancer, he was doing it alone.

There is no doubt some people prefer solitude and have limited social interactions and relationships by choice. It is also true that you can feel lonely in a relationship or with a crowd of people that you know. The important thing is that we all recognize social connections are a fundamental human need.

We need each other.  In the words of the song, ”Reach out and touch somebody’s hand, make this world a better place if you can.”

Free Mesothelioma Patient & Treatment Guide

Free Mesothelioma Patient & Treatment Guide

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It contains a wealth of information and resources to help you better understand the condition, choose (and afford) appropriate treatment, and exercise your legal right to compensation.

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