Watching a family member or friend suffer from mesothelioma is heartbreaking and life changing for an individual. The topic was briefly mentioned in my biology class in high school as an aggressive cancer in the lining of the lungs or abdomen. As the case may be, maybe I possessed a slight degree of naiveté that allowed me to believe my family was untouchable and that would never happen to anyone I loved. I was wrong. My beloved uncle, Dale, mentioned the most horrific word imaginable in the summer of 2016: cancer.
Dale had been in the construction business his entire life, once retired he found pleasure working on his 1966 Shelby 427 Cobra. He had been in the car garage when he experienced shortness of breath and a pain in his chest. He was referred to an oncologist the same day. It took less than a week for my world to crumble around me, and he went from working on his cherished vintage car to signing over the title to someone new to help pay for cancer treatments. In my family, I took the devastating news the hardest as my uncle was like a father-figure to me, and I began to disconnect from the world. I pretended it didn’t exist, but the truth was that it was very much present and it was aggressive like a destructive tornado rushing through not only my uncle, but our entire family and friends. You see, when a family member gets cancer, it’s like everyone has the disease, because it is so crippling emotionally and physically.
I received my BA in Political Science and International Relations in the spring of 2017. For the first time in a while, I felt this strange feeling of happiness, after realizing how far I’ve come in my education I was especially proud that I made my uncle’s milestone. He wanted to see me graduate college, and he did. Watching my ceremony over Facetime, his smile was from ear to ear. My uncle unfortunately died from the disease in the summer of 2017. After initial pain, shock, and sadness of my deceased family member started to slowly fade and the lingering throb of sadness pulsated in my body for weeks on end in an endless loop of a nightmare, I decided I needed to do something to help people like my uncle and their families. I completely reversed my career choices, I began to revoke my applications to law schools that summer and decided upon an education in medicine. I am currently pursuing a master’s degree in Physician Assistant with a focus on Oncology. I am applying to Physician Assistant schools this summer, hoping to start next summer if accepted.
My uncle is not just a simple statistic. He is much more than that and Stage IV Mesothelioma will not define him. The people diagnosed with mesothelioma are real loving people, and like myself, most people think it will not happen to them or anyone they love when in fact “research shows more than 20 million people in the United States are at risk of developing malignant mesothelioma due to asbestos exposure” (“Mesothelioma”). Awareness about asbestos is extremely crucial for every individual to be knowledgeable of, to prevent this crippling disease or catch it in the early stages. Just education alone about asbestos seems to simple, but it is so crucial when it is life-changing knowledge. Asbestos exposure is the only cause of malignant mesothelioma. Asbestos were fibers once widely used in buildings, industrial, commercial, and housing products and it still present in millions of U.S. workplaces and homes (“Mesothelioma”). These fibers, once ingested or inhaled, take at least 15 years to creep up into your life in the form of a dangerous form of cancer. It is so important to be educated on the symptoms of mesothelioma and the locations asbestos may be present to catch the cancer early and have the longest life expectancy possible. I lost my uncle after he caught the cancer in a very advanced stage and he died in less than a year. People need to know that early detection is key to spending more time with your family and prolonging your life.
It’s hard to know what to say to an individual with mesothelioma or a family member of someone whom died from mesothelioma. Even when my hearts in the right place, it would be difficult for words to compile themselves to even make a solid sentence. It would be extremely important to me for them to know that there is no way to be truly prepared for the future and that having plenty caring and supportive people around you is crucial for healing. Walking into my uncle’s hospital room all I saw was tears, a room full of sadness and the word “cancer” radiate through the room. I wish I could be as strong for my uncle as he was strong for me. Yet, my uncles’ strength inspired me to face my fears. Hearing the word “cancer” in my uncles’ room so often, talking to a mesothelioma patient I would be sure to talk about topics other than cancer to help provide a sense of balance. I would try to stay as positive as possible and be hopeful of a brighter future. I would say to them “let me know if you need anything,” as this is especially essential considering most individuals will never ask for help even though they need it. I truly have gone through the experience of having a sick family member, and I could shed some light onto their experiences and grieving process in a positive way. Staying strong, never, ever giving up and letting them know they are not alone is key. I will never forget my uncle and the memories we shared, and I hope going in the Oncology field, I am able to keep his spirit alive helping other individuals suffering from mesothelioma.
“Mesothelioma Statistics.” MesotheliomaHelp.org. N.p., n.d. Web. 01 Jan. 2017.