by Justin Hellier
Full bodied screams filled the hospital hallways. My grandfather, Jim Shiffer, was dead. Mesothelioma had ravaged his body for over two years, and the battle that had left the heart in my family torn was finally over.
Jim Shiffer was a strapping man who could lift more than most 20-somethings at the age of 70. He was an accomplished painter with dozens of paintings of famous vacation spots around the world hung up on his walls, all of which he had seen and experienced with his own eyes. His most notable accomplishment was rising to become the president of Pacific Gas and Electric Company where he oversaw thousands of engineers. After a lifetime of hard work, he was able to retire, which gave him more time to focus on what was always a priority to him: family. He planned all of the family gatherings and brought everyone closer to each other. He is the only reason I was able to spend so much time with all of my aunts and uncles during the holidays making memories that will last forever. His passion for golfing was taken to the next level, making 2nd place a solid standing for anyone who played a round of golf with him. My grandmother talked about Jim constantly and loved everything about him, from the nonstop traveling to the intimate conversations they would have. Jim was a caring man that everyone looked up to, but every great thing must come to an end.
On Thanksgiving of 2011, my grandfather was taken to the hospital due to his erratic coughing. The doctors found 2 liters of cloudy fluid in his lungs and drained it out that night. He had to wait three days for the doctor diagnosis. They told him that he had a terminal cancer called mesothelioma. Asbestos is the only thing known to cause this type of cancer and it didn’t take long to realize where he had been exposed to it. The very thing he spent his whole life climbing to achieve was the very thing that ended his life. During his time working at power plants in the 70’s and 80’s, he worked in asbestos-filled areas. PG&E was using asbestos as insulation and twenty years of breathing it lead to the formation of cancer cells. The doctor only gave him three to six months to live. Jim’s father lived to be 98 years old and in that very moment, 20 years of plans to travel, golf, and spend time with the people he loved, was reduced to enough time to plan a funeral.
With little time left, Jim spent most of it making sure his family was taken care of and that my grandma was able to support herself. With his spare time, he managed to keep up most of his hobbies and lived as if cancer wasn’t spreading through his body. But time passed and he began to feel the effects. Chemotherapy only seemed to harm his body even more and with every treatment came days of nausea and pain. Even though he wasn’t given long to live, he manage to fight his way to live for two year longer then the doctors said. As the cancer grew, Jim grew weaker. His days playing golf were replaced with lying on the couch and his clubs were replaced with an oxygen tank. In the end, everything he loved to do was stripped from him and the inevitable happened. On March 20, 2014, as Jim Shiffer passed away, my grandmother realized that no matter how long you prepare, nothing can compare to the reality. Her cries were heard through the whole hospital and the doctors calmed her down with drugs. That was the end.
A settlement was made for people like Jim that were exposed to asbestos in the work area due to the careless actions of contractors and subcontractors. A portion of the settlement has been given to my grandma, and she is able to live well and has paid off all of the medical bills. Even after his death, Grandpa Jim still had one last lesson to teach me: No matter how much money we got from the settlement, he was never going to come back. Mesothelioma is serious and no one should have to go through what my family and numerous families around the world have had to go through. This cancer can be stopped and people everywhere are making sure that it does get stopped. I respect every person that makes choices to get rid of asbestos and I know that one day no one will have to suffer from mesothelioma needlessly.
Justin Hellier attends Irvine Valley College and plans to transfer to a 4-year university in 2015. Justin was able to relate very closely to the contest and the essay as his grandfather battled Mesothelioma for over two years. Justin’s message to families fighting mesothelioma is that “this is when family matters the most.”