A few weeks ago, Heather, a blogger at the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance Blog inquired about writing a guest post on Tangled and while flattered by her request, I just didn’t know if my little blog was the right platform for her story. But after learning more about her, I felt compelled to help her spread the word to anyone and everyone who might be battling this terrible disease.
It’s been two weeks since she sent me her post and during that time, I’ve been thinking a lot about what to write as an introduction and to be honest, nothing seemed appropriate. All I can say is that life as a new mom is overwhelming at times and it’s easy to feel like you and your handy dandy breast pump are shouldering the weight of the world all on your own. After all, introducing solids and analyzing baby poop is hard work! But sometimes, it takes someone else’s tragedy (and strength to beat the odds) to bring a little perspective to your life and make you realize just how easy you have it.
So, to all you new mommies out there…if Heather can beat cancer while juggling life with a newborn, we can certainly survive a few more restless nights. And, to anyone who has or is fighting back against cancer of any kind, I hope you find her story as inspirational as I did.
A Surprise in the Prime of Life
The year that I became a mom for the first time started off as the best year of my life. My husband and I were blessed with a beautiful baby daughter, and we loved learning how to care for her. We also had plenty of friends and family members to surround our family with support. Although the year started off wonderfully, we were about to be faced with our biggest challenge.
Everything changed around the time that our daughter was 3 1/2 months old. I was just 36 years old when I found out that I was suffering from a rare form of cancer, malignant pleural mesothelioma cancer, to be exact. This serious type of cancer is most often caused by exposure to asbestos. When my doctor gave me my diagnosis, I felt like I had more questions than answers. How in the world had I received such a severe level of exposure to asbestos?
I eventually found out that my exposure to asbestos had not been recent. In fact, it had occurred during my childhood and teenage years when I was living at home with my parents. Like most fathers, my dad was a hard worker who just wanted to support his family. He was skilled in construction, so he worked every day with drywall. These jobs were dusty and messy, and he would bring that dust home with him on his clothing and belongings.
No one in my family would have ever thought to consider that the dust contained dangerous asbestos. Instead, we just went about our daily activities. Day after day, year after year, I was inhaling the contaminated dust that came home on my dad’s clothes.
I was officially diagnosed with malignant pleural mesothelioma at the age of 36. At that time, my case was rare. In fact, the Mayo Clinic said that they had only heard of one other mesothelioma case that occurred in a young patient. I certainly did not fit the profile of the typical mesothelioma sufferer. The disease mostly affected older men that had worked in the military, construction or other trades.
My treatment was in Boston and Lily flew to South Dakota with my mother for the months that I was going through treatment. During my surgery and recovery, I missed the whole 6th month of Lily’s life. I hated being away from her.. and all I had to hold onto was black and white photos that my mom emailed me while I was in the hospital. My nurses were so nice and always looked at Lily’s pictures with me.. they would laugh and cry right along with me! Being away from Lily for that whole month was so hard to do.. But looking back I know it was the best thing I could have done. If I hadn’t gone away for treatment, I would not be here today to watch my baby grow.
At that time, I felt so alone in my journey. I hadn’t known of anyone else who was going through hat I was dealing with on top of having a new baby. I would later find out that I was not alone in my journey. There was a new trend occurring in mesothelioma, and it involved others that had received secondary exposure to asbestos just like me. Women were exposed to the dangerous dust as they hugged their husbands, washed their laundry and dusted their homes. Kids were exposed just by living in their houses and interacting with their fathers.
It is sad to realize that mesothelioma is affecting so many types of people, but it is comforting to know that I am not alone. I want to help others, so that it why I continue sharing my story. My diagnosis changed my life completely.. and not all for the worse. Now, we as a family live life to the fullest ALL the time and I am grateful every single day for my husband and for Lily.
There have been some good treatment advancements for mesothelioma, and I advocate so that the research will continue to progress. My mesothelioma journey was long and harrowing, but it was not all negative. I found a strength that I did not know I had, and I am honored to share that strength with others.