October is health literacy month, and there are several campaigns to raise awareness on deadly diseases. The idea behind this movement is that people have the right to accurate and truthful information regarding deadly diseases, possible causes of these diseases, and preventative measures in an effort to lead a healthy and productive life.
As a health care provider, health literacy is a passion of mine. I spend my days educating men and women in pelvic floor dysfunction, and I write about various health topics here on this blog. This month I have the extreme honor of partnering with Heather Von St. James, a 9 year survivor of mesothelioma cancer. You can learn her story here.
Mesothelioma cancer is directly linked to asbestos exposure, and is the most deadly disease associated with asbestos. It is a highly aggressive cancer that attacks the membrane lining of the lungs and abdomen. Treatment options include surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy (1). It effects thousands of Americans each year through direct and secondary exposure (2). From 1999-2010 there were 31,000 deaths in the U.S. associated with asbestos exposure. Here is the kicker: over 60 countries have banned the use of asbestos. The United States is NOT one of them. Most of South America, almost all of Europe, Australia, and countries in Africa have banned asbestos, but not the U.S. Frightening.
Heather was a brand new mother in her mid thirties when her symptoms arose. Her daughter was still an infant when she was diagnosed with mesothelioma and began a long and arduous process of traveling around to various physicians for treatment. Her cancer was due to secondary exposure to asbestos as a child. Her father worked in construction and would come home covered in asbestos. She recounts wearing his coat outside to play- a coat covered in while asbestos particles. Asbestos exposure is thought to have been the highest during WWII and from 1970-1984 (1). The risks of asbestos exposure were unknown at that time though they are certainly understood in 2015.
Perhaps the most amazing thing about Heather is that when faced with a 15 month life sentence, she not only persevered and lived, but she maintained a positive attitude and outlook on life. She is now sharing her passion for life with the world by raising awareness about mesothelioma and preventable diseases.
It has always been my thought that we as people do the best that we can with the information that we have. Maya Angelou said it best when she said “Do your best until you know better. When you know better, do better”. It is my great hope that with continued learning, awareness, and action, that dangerous chemicals will be banned in the united states, and curable diseases will diminish. Unfortunately, we have to be our own advocates. We have choices in the products that we purchase and in how we vote to support safer, healthier homes. Let us do the best we can, and always be learning more.
I would like to give the most sincere thank you to Heather Von St. James for reaching out to me, and for involving me in her project. I have a lot to learn from her spirit and her courageous endeavors to make her story known for the benefit of others.
Make your day great,
- Mesothelioma Cancer. Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance. Available at: http://www.mesothelioma.com/mesothelioma/
- Mesothelioma Statistics. Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance. Available at: http://www.mesothelioma.com/mesothelioma/statistics/