It was November 21st, 2005, I was 36 years old sitting with my husband, Cameron just three and a half months after I had given birth to my only child, a daughter, Lily. We should have been sitting in her pediatrician’s office listening to her growing stats, milestones, and learning to be parents. Instead, we were sitting in my own doctor’s office hearing the words, “You have cancer.” My diagnosis was malignant pleural mesothelioma and our lives would never be the same again.
The devastation was total. My prognosis without treatment was at best 15 months and we barely had time to let that sink in before my doctor told us my best shot would be an experimental surgery by a doctor in Boston. Without hesitation we knew we had to do everything to get there and my fight against mesothelioma so Lily would have a mom began.
I am thrilled and overwhelmed to say that here I am, nearly 11 years later alive and thankful that my daughter has grown up with a father and a mother. That’s not to say that treatment and learning what my new normal has become for our family. Surgery on February 2, 2006 took my left lung, a rib, half my diaphragm and the lining of my heart and lung. Chemo and radiation followed and I now live my life with just one lung.
Mesothelioma is a rare cancer, mostly unknown and often misunderstood. It is caused by exposure to asbestos and gets a bad rap thanks to late-night infomercials with images of banging gavels and booming voices. But once you’re touched by it and see the devastation it causes to individuals and families, you understand that it goes so far beyond that dangerously clichéd view of this aggressive cancer.
Spreading awareness for mesothelioma and educating on the dangers of asbestos is one of my priorities as an advocate. Asbestos is still legal in the U.S. and still present in buildings built before 1980, including many homes, schools, and workplaces. It takes anywhere from 15-50 years for mesothelioma to present symptoms, and preventing exposure is the only way to avoid developing this cancer, which makes raising awareness for identifying it and proper handling vital.
Being diagnosed at such a young age for a cancer that is commonly thought of as an “old man’s disease” meant that going through cancer I felt very much alone at times. Community and awareness back then for rare cancers before social media was more difficult to find, and one of the main reasons why I work so hard as an advocate now is so that no one has to experience the same amount of loneliness that I did.
Finding the close-knit and supportive mesothelioma community has been life-changing for me. If I can be there and make a difference for even one more person that’s why I dedicate my life to this cause. Support, hope, and an open line to someone who has gone through this experience is what everyone should have, and what I always strive to provide to every single person I am privileged enough to connect with.
While it is amazing that some cancers are given such a high level of attention, it is time that ALL cancers receive attention. That all cancer patients are supported and funding goes to breakthroughs that will contribute to all forms of this disease. I am so hopeful that the new Cancer Moonshot Initiative is paving the way for making this closer to reality.
Getting cancer as a woman in her 30s has changed me in ways I also could never had anticipated. As a mother, I have raised a strong, beautiful daughter who is sure of herself in her own skin and becoming the amazing person who I’m incredibly thankful I have been here to raise. This is why I am not bothered by aging, wrinkles, scars: Body image for me is less of a problem than it is a reminder of what I went through and survived.
It is also my hope that all women, mothers and caregivers can step back, be amazed at what they can accomplish and remember to take care of themselves. It is yet one more lesson I have learned while navigating survivorship, it’s necessary and not selfish to take care of yourself. It allows us to recharge and be there for all those in our lives.
I am a mom, wife, rare cancer survivor, and advocate. I have lost so much to cancer: my left lung, my career, too many friends and the life I had planned with my family. But like all the incredible women in my life, I have found a new path, a new hope and community that supports me as much as I work to support it.