Understanding Mesothelioma and the People Who Survive It

by Mark Hall
Mesothelioma Center

Emergency response professionals are regularly exposed to countless hazards and risks that can potentially develop into injuries or diseases. One such disease that should concern public service responders is a rare industrial cancer known as mesothelioma.

Mesothelioma is a cancer of the lining of the lungs that affects nearly 3,000 Americans each year. The only known cause is exposure to the toxic yet naturally forming substance of asbestos. Unlike some other diseases, this cancer is noted for having a slow development process, often taking between 30 to 50 years to manifest.

Asbestos is commonly found in construction products. For emergency workers who work in fire rescue, they are especially at risk for exposure through burning buildings and related situations. Beyond emergency response personnel, this cancer is commonly found among construction workers, miners, insulators, and other industrial occupations. Blue-collar professionals have disproportionate exposure to asbestos relative to the general population.

Despite the negative prognoses that are commonly associated with a mesothelioma diagnosis, patients of this cancer should know that some people do survive this disease. The stories from these survivors shed light on the hope that exists for others who aim to join this small group of fortunate patients.

Survivors’ Thoughts on Mesothelioma
Fighting any form of cancer is an overwhelmingly difficult task, regardless of the patient’s age, gender, race, religion, occupation, life experiences or any other defining factor. The people who are faced with mesothelioma and end up surviving represent a fortunate minority population.

These survivors acknowledge that getting to this stage was not easy. Countless drugs were taken, numerous treatments were received, endless doctors were visited and a continual dependence on family occurred.

A Common Bond
Certain commonalities can be found among most mesothelioma survivors. These similarities include effective treatment outcomes, optimism, resilience, and emotional support. Without any one of these concepts, their outcome would have likely been extremely different.

Wendy Morris, whose story was shared on Asbestos.com, is a 14-year survivor who was uniquely diagnosed with the tragic cancer at age 28. She attributes her disease to the asbestos exposure that occurred daily from her father’s contaminated uniform when she was younger.

Morris believes that her optimism and resilience played a tremendous role in her survival. “If your brain and your body tells you something completely opposite of what a man or woman in a white coat has handed you, listen to your heart and fight, debate, cry, pray, share, love and mostly live this life with what your gut is telling you to do!” she said.

New York City, September 11, 2001

Jo Denham, like Morris, attributes a positive attitude to her success. Denham also believes that pursuing treatment options recommended by your doctor is also in your best interest. She had surgery to remove the lining of her left lung which was followed by heated chemotherapy.

Surgeons scrubbed her chest cavity and then she received the chemotherapy into the affected area to minimize additional cancer risks. Denham described the treatment as extremely aggressive but credits it for her current survival.

“There are long term survivors of mesothelioma, and I intend to be one of them! Attitude counts for a lot, and willingness to pursue the treatment recommendations all add up to a better chance for survival,” she said.

Unique Outliers
Occasionally, there are exceptions among these survivors. Wayne Neal is one of these exceptions.

Neal, who turns 84 this year, was diagnosed in 1991. He says that he refuses treatments like surgery and chemotherapy. In fact, he has stayed away from doctors because of skepticism about the treatments’ effectiveness.

According to Neal, he found a nontraditional and natural way to battle the cancer: cherries. After two decades of surviving mesothelioma, he attributes much of his success to the natural food that he has been eating every night for 20 years.

“I don’t know what the science is, but I’m a real believer. I’m proof that they work. I don’t exactly know how or why, but they do. I know they can stop cancer, and a lot of other things, too,” said Neal.

Realization of the Facts
These survivors, along with the countless others, realize that they beat the odds. Survival rates for mesothelioma are extremely grim. Doctors are often surprised when many of these patients survive.

Less than 40 percent of mesothelioma patients in the United States survive beyond one year. By year two, this figure drops below 20 percent. The reality for most current and future patients is unfortunate until further progress in research and treatment is made.

However, what can be learned from the experiences and words of all survivors is that it is possible. Optimism, endless hope, hard work, resilience and an effective treatment can make you a survivor.

About the Author: Mark Hall is a writer for the Mesothelioma Center. Between his interests in environmental health and his writing experience, Mark is committed to communicating relevant news and information regarding the dangers of asbestos exposure and breakthroughs in mesothelioma treatments.