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Sunday, March 30, 2014

Asbestos Awareness Week

Recently I was contacted by a lovely lady named, of all things, Heather. She had emailed me a plea through this blog to help get the word out about mesothelioma, a deadly cancer that is commonly caused by exposure to asbestos. Mesothelioma primarily attacks the pleura which is the outer lining of the lungs and the internal chest wall. It is a horrific disease that is painful and terrifying.

Wish I had the nerve to pull off platinum hair!

Three months after giving birth to her daughter, Heather was diagnosed with mesothelioma and was given just fifteen months to live. Wanting to give her daughter the chance to know her mother, she and her husband hunted for the best care they could find which led them to Boston's Brigham and Women's Hospital and Dr. David Sugarbaker, renowned thoracic surgeon. Today, Heather is a seven year survivor of mesothelioma who has dedicated her life to helping victims of this pernicious disease. I am happy to help her.

When Heather was a little girl, her father would come home from work with his coat covered in drywall dust. Drywall dust they now know contained asbestos. Whenever Heather worked outside the house she would wear her dad's coat and this is how her exposure to asbestos happened and why she was diagnosed with mesothelioma at such a young age. Heather is from the United States, where between 1999 and 2010 mesothelioma killed 30,000 Americans. I did a little search and found seven stadiums in the United States that will hold 30,000 people. Think of an entire stadium of people dying and the numbers are pretty sobering. Only about 40% of the people diagnosed with this terrible disease survive the first year. About 20% survive the second year but by year three the percentage has dropped to between 3% and 8%.* Thanks to Heather's aggressive approach to her treatment, she is still with us and her daughter has a Mom.

I decided to investigate the rates of this disease in Canada. It is equally as grim here.Our mesothelioma rate is one of the highest in the world and rising. Guess why? Up until recently we had most of the world's asbestos mines here in the Canada. Happily the last two mines, one of them the world's largest and ironically located in Asbestos, Quebec were closed down in 2011 (I'm guessing that's where the product got it's name from). But the damage has been done.

2.1 out of every 100,000 people in Canada are diagnosed with mesothelioma every year. Due to the latency rate of this disease being between 20 and 50 years, these rates will not fall any time in the near future and in fact will probably climb. By this I mean that the disease can appear anywhere from 20 to 50 years after your exposure to asbestos. This is why when you watch home renovation shows and they find asbestos in the walls, it is such a big deal and it is so expensive to deal with. Have you seen what they have to do to the house and what they have to wear? It is a disgusting lethal product, naturally occurring or not. Have you seen what the fibres look like? Head on over to Wikipedia and see. They look alien.

"In the good old days", not only was asbestos used in cement, insulation and other housing materials, it could also be found in shingles and siding and also paint. It is not surprising that it became popular to use because of it's properties. It had sound absorption, average tensile strength, was fire resistant and it was affordable. Chances are, if your house was built between 1930 and 1950, then it likely will contain asbestos in one form or another. As well, right into the 20th century as many as 4,000 household products contained asbestos in varying amounts. Disturbing news indeed.

Helping Heather get the word out is the least I can do. In Canada, cancer in general accounts for 30% of Canadian deaths each year. Of those 30%, mesothelioma (classified under lung cancer) plus breast, colorectal and prostate cancers make up over 50% of all cancers. I haven't yet looked up the stats for the US, but I'm sure it is just as bad or worse.

April 1st to 7th is Asbestos Awareness Week. Head over here and have a look at Heather's story and spread the word. And more importantly, donate. Give people like Heather a chance at treatment and survival. There's a good chance it could be someone you know.

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