01 June 2014

Celebrating Life: National Cancer Survivors Day

When Heather Von  St. James asked me to write something to help her spread the word about mesothelioma and it's causes for National Cancer Survivors day, of course I agreed. But what would I say? My only personal experience with mesothelioma was back in 1999, when my boyfriend at the time was told he had cancer. The doctor originally thought it was mesothelioma, so of course I did a few internet searches to see what I could learn.

The most common risk factor for malignant mesothelioma is exposure to asbestos, a material used by builders and construction workers as insulation before people learned it was carcinogenic (in the late 1970s). What I didn't fully realize before Heather reached out to me and I watched her touching story is that mesothelioma isn't a "disease of the past" because we now know better. And, it has the potential to affect many more than those who had the misfortune of installing or working directly with it.

Here are just a few interesting facts* about how asbestos and mesothelioma continue to impact our lives, even in 2014:
  • "Some 30 million pounds of asbestos are still used each year in the United States."
  • "The number one cause of occupational cancer in the United States is asbestos...."
  • "Asbestos is still mined in several countries throughout the world, including Canada, and is exported to many industrialized and developing countries."
  • "Asbestos can still be found in myriad homes, schools, and commercial or industrial buildings."
  • "Asbestos was once used in more than 3,000 consumer products, including common household items such as toasters and hair dryers, some of which may still be in use."
*Selected from http://www.mesothelioma.com/asbestos-cancer/asbestos-facts-statistics.htm.

I've never had a cancer diagnosis, so I write this blog with all due respect to my survivor friends and former colleagues. I can't pretend to understand what it's like, how scary it can be. But what I know from my own experience and training about healing the body-mind is that one must cultivate three things:
  1. An understanding. Absorbing as much learning as one can about dis-ease, adding an interpretation to it. In other words, gathering not just knowledge, but wisdom.
  2. A recognition that one is unique, yet not alone. We all have different strengths and weaknesses, different life experiences that created our bodies and minds. What applies to one person doesn't necessarily apply to all. Yet our individualities fit together to create our whole world--we each have parts to play.
  3. A healthy attitude. Here I don't just mean blind optimism or positivity. I mean having an authentic and real love for life, cultivating compassion toward self during trying times, and desiring to be open and to feel in this world, despite the inevitable ups and downs.
When I watched Heather's video (http://www.mesothelioma.com/heather/#.U4c7ZyjLNYo), I realized she exhibited all these qualities. Additionally, she felt inspired to help others understand more about this preventable disease, in the hopes that just one more life might be saved. That is one of her parts to play.

This National Cancer's Survivors Day,  I encourage you to take a few moments to gain some understanding about mesothelioma and the dangers of asbestos. (Good sources include http://www.mesothelioma.com/mesothelioma/, http://www.mesothelioma.com/asbestos-exposure/, and Heather's blog.) Recognize that this dis-ease still can affect each and every one of us, because we are a collective here on planet earth. And last but not least, open your heart, do not live in fear, and live your life to its fullest, each and every day!

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